An illegal immigration link to identity theft
A massive sweep at Swift meat-processing plants this week could lead officials to 'document rings.'
The latest roundup of illegal immigrants caught working in the US with fraudulent identifications – the largest single such work-site action ever – raises new questions about a link between illegal immigration and the growing problem of identity theft.Skip to next paragraph
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Federal raids Tuesday at six meat-processing plants owned by Swift & Co. in six states resulted in the arrests of 1,282 people for immigration violation – with 65 also charged with identify theft or other criminal charges.
The investigation is continuing, say officials with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), with the hope that some of the newly arrested workers will lead law officers to "document rings" that provided the stolen identities. The 10-month operation began in February, when ICE learned that "large numbers" of undocumented immigrants might be using Social Security numbers assigned to US citizens.
"We believe that the genuine identities of possibly hundreds of US citizens are being stolen or hijacked by criminal organizations and sold to illegal aliens in order to gain unlawful employment in this country," said Julie Myers, ICE assistant secretary. She called it "a disturbing front in the war against illegal immigration."
The fraudulent document business has long been a thorn in the side of immigration officials, making it hard for them to crack down on companies for knowingly hiring illegal workers. Indeed, even as ICE agents conducted Tuesday's raids at the Swift plants, a joint task force in Arizona – made up of state, federal, and local law- enforcement officials – was arresting 12 suspects and seized numerous fake drivers' licenses, resident alien cards, Social Security cards, and vehicle titles.
Metropolitan Phoenix, a major immigrant-smuggling hub, has become a place where the false ID business is thriving, law-enforcement officers say. They estimate that 1,000 to 1,500 "coyotes," or smugglers, stash thousands of undocumented immigrants in drop houses throughout the valley, where they wait until false identification and transportation can be arranged to places as far away as Seattle and Miami.
"I would say that 90 percent of the transactions dealing with the sale of human cargo, those smuggled across the [Arizona] border, occur right here," Angel Rascon-Rubio, an ICE special agent, testified at a federal court hearing last year.
The Phoenix area is ideal for smugglers, officials say, because it is fairly easy to reach from Mexico but far enough from the border to avoid border patrol enforcement. It has broad access to the rest of the country via air and car. Moreover, the large Hispanic neighborhoods provide cover for drop houses and new immigrants.
On one of Phoenix's quiet residential streets lined with stucco tract homes live two men who came to the US illegally but gained legal status – along with some 3 million others – under the federal 1986 amnesty program. David and Raul, who will give only first names, are in the business of helping newly arrived illegal immigrants acquire fake documents.
They are not part of an organized crime family, they say – just part of a network of established immigrants who help others attain what they've achieved. They are, in effect, the go-betweens from those who bring the immigrants and those who make the fake ID papers – a service they say they provide for free.
"A coyote will call and say, 'Does your boss need more workers?' or 'Can you help get this person some papers?' " says David, whose main job is as a landscaper. "It's easy. I'll have a number for a [document] guy and call him. We'll meet at the major intersection out here, say, in half an hour. I give him $50 or $100, whatever he's asking, a photo of the person, and a name," he adds. "About 45 minutes later, he'll call me to come meet him on the same corner with the papers – a Social Security card and a green card."