US Visa Process Intended as First Line of Defense in Homeland Security

I came across two recently issued ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) press releases and thought it would be worthwhile to pick through these press releases to provide you with my perspectives that may not be immediately apparent to most folks. I also have decided to provide both press releases simultaneously because, although it may not be immediately obvious, there is a common theme that runs through both of them.

First of all it is important to remember that a press release is the way that any organization- a person, a private company or a government agency proclaims to the world that they have accomplished something that is important. Indeed this press release does address an important success scored by the agents of ICE- the successful identification and apprehension of a fugitive from justice wanted for murder in a foreign country- in this case, the Dominican Republic. Certainly this is something worth crowing about.

However, as we pick through the information provided by ICE points need to be made and a few disturbing questions come to mind that I will share with you.

Those of you who are familiar with my efforts know that I have been adamant in saying that when an alien circumvents the inspections process there is no way of knowing if that alien is simply desperate to find unlawful employment or has something far more sinister in mind. I have often noted that the inspections process is not the mere formality that those politicians and “leaders” such as Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano might depict the inspections process as being. CBP (Customs and Border Protection) inspectors at ports of entry are supposed to attempt to prevent the entry of aliens into our country that is, by law, deemed “excludable.” Grounds for exclusion can be found in *


Here is the link to this section of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA):

The point is that under the immigration laws aliens whose presence in our country would be harmful to our nation or our citizens are supposed to be prevented from entering the United States. This critically important function of our government is supposed to be accomplished at two points.

First of all, when an alien applies for a visa to seek to enter the United States, the officials of the United States Department of State, the federal agency that is authorized to issue visas to aliens, is supposed to use available resources to prevent aliens whose presence would be problematic from receiving visas in the first place. That is why the link I provided above notes the classes of aliens who are ineligible to receive visas and are ineligible for admission.

The visa issuing process is supposed to provide our nation with the initial layer of security thereby extending our borders, in a manner of speaking, to the U.S. Embassies and Consulates in foreign countries.

The importance of the visa issuing process will be apparent in the second of the two press releases, but we will get to that shortly.

It is also important to note that the Visa Waiver Program all but eliminates the layer of protection that a properly administered visa issuing process can afford our nation and our citizens. Incredibly the number of countries that have been placed on this list of nations whose citizens do not visas in order to seek to enter the United States for a 90 period has swollen to a total of 36 such countries- with Greece having been added this past March.

The issue of border security is the other component of the mechanism that is supposed to keep aliens out of our country who may do harm to our nation and/or our citizens in one way or another. Clearly the lack of border security is not only a problem for the Mexican/American border but is an issue for all of our nation’s borders including the coastal region of Puerto Rico as well as, in fact, all of the coastal regions of the United States.

The Department of Homeland Security is charged with many missions including the securing of our nation borders and attempting to prevent the entry of aliens into our country though the inspections process. This mission is thwarted when aliens who are presumably excludible for one or more of the reasons set forth in the law evade the inspectors at ports of entry. The press release that addressed the case of Jose Odalis Perez-Calderon, aka Elvis Luna Pena provides an excellent example of an alien who sought to flee law enforcement authorities in another country who were seeking to apprehend him for his alleged role in a murder by entering our country and using a false name after he got here. It was obvious that his motivation to evade the inspections process to enter the United States through Puerto Rico was not to simply seek unlawful employment but rather to flee from law enforcement officials in his home country (the Dominican Republic) because he was a fugitive in a murder investigation. Clearly he took on a false name as a means of hiding his true identity and his true criminal background from officials in the United States.

The question about the significance of the inspections process is not a matter of arguing if it is a felony to evade the inspections process but rather what the implications are to national security and community safety when aliens enter the United States without being inspected.

It is also worth noting that the press release states that Perez entered the United States in February 2009. My question is how does anyone know when he actually entered our country? Most likely our officials had to rely on what Perez told them- since he was not inspected when he did enter our country. While I have no way of knowing how his actual date and place of entry was determined by ICE It is likely that his date of entry as reported in the press release was simply the date that he *claimed* he entered in the United States.

What I find particularly disturbing is the fact that he was arrested for possession of a firearm and yet it would appear he was not prosecuted for that felony under federal law. (Possession, by an illegal alien, of a firearm that has affected interstate commerce is a serious felony under federal law.) It is possible that there was a problem with the gun charge, but insofar as he was sentenced for possessing a firearm without a license, it must be presumed that he could have been prosecuted for a felony under federal law. Nothing in the press release provides any indication of why he was prosecuted on the firearms charge locally for what would appear to be a misdemeanor.

Furthermore, it would appear that even though he was charged with possessing the firearm, a serious crime, he was released from custody and was given what is known as an “alternate order” by an Immigration Judge. He was told he must depart from the United States prior to a specific date or be subject to formal removal (deportation).

Fortunately his true identity was subsequently determined as was his fugitive status in the Dominican Republic in conjunction with his alleged involvement in a murder.

The following statement contained in the press release is worth considering:

“Criminals who think that they can use the United States as a safe haven are sorely mistaken,” said Marc Moore, field office director for ICE ERO in Miami. “ICE prioritizes locating foreign fugitives hiding in the United States and turning them over to our foreign law enforcement partners to face justice in their native countries, and as a result, our communities are safer and more secure.” The point is that it is of great importance to locate and apprehend foreign fugitives who have sought to enter our country and hide in plain sight as did the individual in this case- however, consider just how limited ICE resources are to actually carry out their critically important missions. There are only about 6,000 special agents employed by ICE for the entire United States of America and it is believed that half of them are focusing on investigating and enforcing violations of Customs laws which have absolutely nothing to do with immigration laws and aliens in our country. To put this in perspective, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) has a small army of some 35,000 police officers to protect the City of New York!

I am certainly glad that this case ended the way it did- but with the huge number of illegal aliens present in the United States of America, the unsettling question remains, how many more fugitives are hiding throughout our nation from coast to coast and border to border right now?

Now we come to the second of the two press releases, the one that addressed the fraud ring that reportedly enabled more than one hundred aliens to enter the United States by filing fraud applications for visas for the United States. Here are two paragraphs from that press release that provide the vital facts about this case:

Three Columbian nationals each were sentenced yesterday to 23 months in federal prison for their roles in a conspiracy to smuggle aliens for profit and conspiracy to commit visa fraud in an extensive and sophisticated visa fraud scheme through which they fraudulently procured visas from the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Colombia. This investigation was led by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

According to court documents, Heliber Toro Mejia, Humberto Toro Mejia and Luz Elena Acuna Rios admitted that they operated an extensive and sophisticated visa fraud ring that profited by assisting otherwise inadmissible Colombian nationals in fraudulently procuring visas from the U.S. Embassy in Bogota. Plea documents reveals to support the visa applications of alien applicants, the defendants and other conspirators created fictitious backgrounds for the aliens and fraudulent supporting documentation, including paperwork that appeared to be official Colombian government-issued documents such as tax filings and birth and marriage certificates, property ownership records, and corporation documents. The conspirators coached the aliens on how to pass the visa interview at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota by answering questions untruthfully as well as how to lie to U.S. immigration authorities about their backgrounds when entering the United States. The defendants admitted to assisting more than 100 aliens in fraudulently obtaining or attempting to fraudulently obtain a U.S. visa during the course of the conspiracy. Many of those aliens who did obtain a fraudulently-procured visa used that visa to enter the United States.

Stop and give some thought to the crime sophisticated crimes that the smuggling ring is accused of and to which the defendants pleaded guilty.

They provided false identity documents to over one hundred illegal aliens to enable them to conceal their true names in order to procure visas to enter the United States.

Now consider that ICE issued a press release to announce this successful prosecution- I am certainly glad they put this ring out of business- however- now consider that the three defendants in this case were sentenced to less than two years in prison! Certainly the prospect of doing time in jail is disturbing- but I can tell you from my experience as an INS special agent that criminals are not intimidated by being sent off to jail. Furthermore, an American prison is an absolute hotel compared with what awaits a prisoner in a country such as Colombia! How much of a deterrent is a 23 month prison sentence to an individual who may well regard the prospect of prison time with as much concern as a hockey player might contemplate time in the “Penalty Box?”

Consider the first case I noted in this commentary- that of Jose Odalis Perez-Calderon, aka Elvis Luna Pena a fugitive from the Dominican who entered the United States by evading the inspections process in Puerto Rico. What could have motivated these 100 plus illegal aliens from Colombia to pay to secure false identity documents? Are any of them fugitives? Do our officials even know the true number of aliens who were able to enter our country with the assistance of this fraud ring? The vague term of “more than one hundred could mean one hundred and one or it could mean two thousand! Does anyone in our government know the actual number?

It should therefore be presumed that their actual names would likely have set off alarm bells with the United States government, if they had simply used their own names with false documents to prove that they were legally eligible to apply for the visas that they applied for. Could it be that they had been previously deported from the United States? Could it be that they had extensive criminal histories in the United States and/or other countries? Could it be that they were not even citizens of Colombia but were citizens of other Latin American countries?

Here is a question that might really give you “cause for pause”- might their true names not even been Spanish names but were names that indicated that they came from other parts of the world? Might they have names that would have identified them as being, for example, from the Middle East? Of course there is nothing in the press release that gives rise to this speculation- and as I am sure you know, I hate to speculate- the problem is that the press release did not discuss the sorts of visas that the aliens they conspired with had been issued. There was nothing in the press release to indicate anything whatsoever about the aliens who availed themselves of the “services” the members of the fraud ring provided their clientele.

What is of additional concern is the fact that there was nothing at all indicating that any effort is being made to locate and apprehend these illegal aliens!

It is also important to consider the relatively light sentences that were imposed on this trio of alien smugglers. Indeed these three individuals are smugglers- they did not enable their customers to run our nation’s borders, they did something that is perhaps even more disconcerting- they provided more than one hundred aliens with false identities, false backgrounds and thereby enabled them to procure visas that provided them with the appearance of legality!

Were any officials employed at the United States Embassy involved in this fraud ring? How many more such fraud rings are operating in Colombia? How many fraud rings are operating throughout the world? What resources are being dedicated to finding these rings?

Visa fraud and immigration benefit fraud have been utilized extensively by dozens of individuals who have been identified as being involved in terrorist activities inside the United States including the attacks of 1993 and 9/11!

Also worth considering is the fact that there are reportedly fewer than 300 Special Agents of ICE assigned to locating and apprehending aliens who violate the terms of their admission into the United States. The government claims that there are roughly 5 million such visa violators in our country today and I have been told that there may well be twice as many such visa violators present in our country today!

The issue of visa fraud is one that is well known to our government and yet, even as our expectations privacy and freedom have been whittled away in the name of “The War on Terror” and in the name of national security- nothing has been done to fix this gaping hole in the system!

On May 20, 1997 I was invited, for the first time, to appear at a congressional hearing conducted by the House Immigration Subcommittee. I was not afforded the opportunity to provide prepared testimony as I would be at subsequent hearings, but was invited to provide my perspectives if questions arose during that hearing. The topic of the hearing was:


Here is the link to the transcript of this hearing- that was held in response to the terrorist attacks of 1993 including the first attack at the World Trade Center that left six people dead, hundreds injured and an estimated one half billion dollars in damages inflicted upon that centerpiece of the Lower Manhattan Skyline. Visa fraud and immigration benefit fraud were determined to have enabled the terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center and the terrorist who attacked the CIA one month earlier- killing two CIA officers and wounding three others to enter our country and embed themselves within our country:

Representative Lamar Smith then chaired that subcommittee and he asked me a question worth considering now:

Mr. SMITH. Thank you, Mr. Yates.

Mr. Cutler, assuming that the problem is as bad as Mr. Yates just testified, and you have one service center out of four with 17,000 fraudulent applications because of marriage fraud; do you think the problem is that great?

And a second question at the same time, since not all agents are going to have photographic memories, what is the solution to try to stop the degree of marriage fraud that we are seeing today in the future?

Mr. CUTLER. Well, good morning, Mr. Chairman. I welcome this opportunity. I was an I-130 examiner many years ago back in the 1970’s. I am now with the Drug Task Force.

I can tell you many times when I review immigration files of targets of investigation, people we believe are involved in narcotics and other criminal activities, we find that these people have their residency in the United States and yet their spouses are nowhere to be found. It may well be that they had a marriage that was legitimate and it dissolved, as happens to many people; or it may well have been they entered into a marriage fraud in the first place.

It is very difficult when you get a file of somebody who became a resident alien based on a marriage to make a definitive decision as to whether or not there was a marriage fraud. There are so many different ways that it is done. You have people that get divorced on paper; they really aren’t divorced, they still have their spouse’s back home waiting in the wings, waiting to come over as soon as the person finalizes their residency.



Even in the area of imposters-we keep talking about name checks; we are going to check the name against the master list. I think what is even more important and perhaps more worthwhile would be for us to be more reliant upon biometrics.

The problem that we have is that people can be anybody they want to be. I had an instance recently where we had a Russian national, whom we arrested, and the guy was apparently deported from the United States, and came back to the United States with a brand-new identity. He paid a total of $140 for a new passport from Russia, and this passport was a legitimate document, improperly issued. This passport contained a nonimmigrant visa. The State Department couldn’t be expected to figure it out.

On March 18, 2004 I testified before the House Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims at the behest of Sheila Jackson Lee, the then Ranking Member of that subcommittee. This is the title of that hearing:


Here is the link to the transcript of that hearing in its entirety:

I have testified at many Congressional hearings in which the issue of immigration fraud was a focal point. Yet nothing is being done to address this critical vulnerability in meaningful ways.

There is one word that sums this failure up:


I f our country is to survive and if our children and their children are to get their share of the “American Dream” the citizens of this nation must take their citizenship seriously!

We the People must be the best citizens we can be, citizens who are worthy of the gallantry demonstrated by our valiant men and women in the military, law enforcement and firefighters, who routinely go in harm’s way in defense of this nation and our citizens.

My goal in writing this and other commentaries is to point out our nations many failings before more victims pay the ultimate price for the incompetence and ineptitude of our government.

The first step in problem-solving is to first identify the problems and vulnerabilities and then devise strategies to overcome them.

Any politician who refuses to work to secure our borders and create an immigration system that has integrity is either corrupt or too dumb to keep his (her) job. Any politician, irrespective of party affiliation who favors amnesty for millions of illegal aliens such as the DREAM Act or Comprehensive Immigration Reform and the outrageous betrayal that this would represent given the national security implications that this program would have, should be shown the door at the next election!

If you find yourself to be in agreement with this commentary, I ask that you forward it to as many of your friends and family members as possible and encourage them to do the same. We need to create a “Bucket Brigade of Truth!”

However, the practice of good citizenship does not end in the voting booth, it only begins there.

The large scale apathy demonstrated by citizens of this nation has emboldened elected representatives to all but ignore the needs of the average American citizen in a quest for massive campaign funds and the promises of votes to be ostensibly delivered by special interest groups. There is much that we cannot do but there is one thing that We the People absolutely must do- we must stop sitting on the sidelines!

The collective failure of We the People to get involved in make our concerns known to our politicians have nearly made the concerns of the great majority of the citizens of this nation all but irrelevant to the politicians. I implore you to get involved!

If this situation concerns you or especially if it angers you, I ask you to call your Senators and Congressional “Representative. This is not only your right- it is your obligation!

All I ask is that you make it clear to our politicians that we are not as dumb as they hope we are!

We live in a perilous world and in a perilous era. The survival of our nation and the lives of our citizens hang in the balance.

This is neither a Conservative issue, nor is it a Liberal issue- simply stated; this is most certainly an AMERICAN issue!

You are either part of the solution or you are a part of the problem!

Democracy is not a spectator sport!

Lead, follow or get out of the way!

See Press Releases:

ICE removes international fugitive wanted for murder

3 Colombian nationals sentenced to 23 months for alien smuggling and visa fraud charges

Michael Cutler, a former Senior INS Investigator, an expert witness in more than a dozen Congressional Hearings is a Fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies and an advisor to the ‘911 Families for a Secure America.’ He writes about the nexus between immigration and national security.