MEMORIES OF THE AGRICULRURAL AMNESTY IN 1986, DÉJÀ VU 2007
Report of investigation by the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General (OIG) examining the Immigration and Naturalization Service's (INS) "Citizenship USA" (CUSA) initiative of fiscal year 1996. Excerpts addressing the problem of widespread fraud in the Special Agricultural Worker (SAW) amnesty program under the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA).
(Report dated July 31, 2000)
Section III (D)(4)(a)(1) —Special Agricultural Workers become eligible to apply for naturalization
Congressional passage of IRCA permitted millions of undocumented aliens to obtain lawful permanent resident status through INS' resulting Legalization or "Amnesty" program. Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner Doris Meissner advised Congress in September 1995 that "a major reason" for the increase in naturalization application filings that INS had experienced was this Legalization program.
IRCA contained two "amnesty" provisions. The first dealt primarily with undocumented aliens who had entered the United States before January 1, 1982, without inspection or on a visitor or student visa and overstayed or worked without permission. These "pre-1982 applicants" had to meet certain requirements concerning proof of identity, length of residence, and financial responsibility in order to obtain permanent resident status. IRCA's other legalization provision, and the one examined by the OIG, afforded permanent residence to certain undocumented agricultural workers known as "Special Agricultural Workers," who had engaged in agricultural work for specified periods of time between May 1, 1984, and May 1, 1986.
Successful SAW applicants obtained temporary residency. They generally adjusted to lawful permanent residents within one or two years (depending on whether they were "group 1" or "group 2" applicants and depending on the date of which their applications were granted). The deadline for applying for residency under the SAW provisions was November 30, 1988. This meant that many hundreds of thousands of persons who had obtained lawful permanent resident status through the SAW program became eligible for naturalization in 1994 and 1995 (i.e., five years after becoming permanent residents). According to INS documents, as of December 1, 1995, this group of potential citizens numbered approximately 1.2 million persons.
Section III (D)(4)(a)(2) —INS' belief in widespread fraud in SAW program
To be eligible for adjustment of status under the SAW provisions, the applicant had to prove with documentation that he or she had worked in an agricultural enterprise in the United States for 90 days in each calendar year from 1984 through 1986, or for 90 days between May 1985 and May 1986. The evidence of having engaged in such work, INS employees believed, was often forged and sold to undocumented individuals seeking U.S. residency. Given the crush of applications under the program and the relative fewer investigative resources, INS approved applications absent explicit proof that they were in fact fraudulent.
There was consensus within the INS that "SAW fraud"—or fraud in adjusting status under the SAW provisions of IRCA—had been prevalent.
As INS Commissioner Meissner told the OIG, the perception that the SAW program was rife with fraud was "the commonly held view at the institution. Headquarters officials meeting on December 1, 1995, noted that 1.2 million SAW applicants had become eligible for naturalization that day, "with 70% fraudulent applications anticipated , Although the extent of fraud in the SAW program was not documented, by September 1995 INS had conducted at least one large-scale investigation into organized efforts to sell fraudulent SAW documents. In addition to identifying suspects who were later convicted of federal crimes, that operation identified approximately 22,000 adjustment of status cases that were connected in some way to the persons convicted.
Section III (D)(4)(a)(3) —Congressional concern about SAW fraud and INS' commitment to take appropriate action
INS officials were not alone in thinking that the SAW program was rife with fraud. On June 28, 1995, Barbara Jordan, chair of the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, testified before a joint hearing of House and Senate immigration subcommittees about the Commission's recommendations.. According to Jordan's prepared statement, the Commission urged INS, in light of "reports of widespread fraud" in the SAW program, to pay "special attention" to the naturalization applications of those who became legal residents under the SAW provisions. The Commission recommended that INS "carefully scrutinize the naturalization applications of all special agricultural workers to ensure that their special agricultural worker status was properly granted."
Senate Immigration Subcommittee Chairman Alan Simpson asked INS to respond to several questions after a September 1995 hearing, one of which directly addressed SAW fraud. He first indicated that he had information that "experts claimed that 50% of the SAW applications were fraudulent.
Section III (D)(4)(a)(4)—The role of immigration fraud in the naturalization adjudication
The Immigration and Nationality Act directed the Attorney General to rescind the lawful permanent resident status of any person later found to have been ineligible. The applicant was asked on the N-400 whether he or she had ever "given false testimony for the purpose of obtaining any immigration benefit," a question that would encompass, among other things, false statements the applicant made to adjust status. Finally, obtaining permanent resident status through fraud clearly should affect an adjudicator's evaluation of the applicant's "good moral character," .
Section III (D)(4)(a)(5)— The confidentiality provisions of IRCA
To encourage potentially eligible applicants to apply for adjustment of status, IRCA established that information provided by amnesty applicants would not be used to deport them (on the basis of having illegally entered the country or having overstayed after entering legally) in the event that their applications were denied. The confidentiality provisions of IRCA prohibited INS from using the information in a legalization file "for any purpose other than to make a determination on the application or for enforcement of [the provisions concerning false statements in applying for adjustment of status], or for the preparation of reports to Congress" as required by IRCA. As a means of facilitating compliance with this provision, INS segregated information pertaining to the legalization application from other information in the applicant's file and placed a red cover or "red sheet" on top of the information.
IRCA's implementing regulations did not address whether the information in a granted legalization application could subsequently be used for any purpose, such as to determine eligibility for another immigration benefit.
Section III (D)(4)(c)—Operation Desert Deception: INS did not take action during CUSA to prevent applicants who had benefited from SAW fraud from becoming citizens
By September 1995, INS had specifically identified 22,000 cases of suspected SAW fraud in the aftermath of an extensive criminal investigation entitled "Operation Desert Deception." These 22,000 cases were connected to several defendants in the investigation who had by then been convicted of various federal crimes relating to an elaborate SAW fraud scheme. Despite knowledge of these cases at the highest level of INS, despite knowledge that many of these individuals had become or would soon become eligible to apply for naturalization, and despite Headquarters' commitment to Congress in November 1995 that it would appropriately investigate cases in which SAW fraud was suspected, INS did not take timely action to ensure that applicants suspected of SAW fraud did not naturalize during CUSA. The evidence shows that INS knowingly put CUSA's production priorities ahead of its commitment to take appropriate action to prevent individuals who had already fraudulently received one immigrat ion benefit from becoming U.S. citizens.
The big priority during the Clinton Administration was to naturalize 1.6 million people, prospective voters.
Section III (D)(4)(c)(1) —Background on Operation Desert Deception
In 1995, INS' Investigations Division completed a 5-year criminal investigation into immigration fraud code-named "Operation Desert Deception" (ODD). The investigation, conducted largely around Las Vegas, Nevada, focused on individuals who assisted aliens in preparing and filing fraudulent legalization applications and other documents with INS. This investigation resulted in the successful prosecution of 54 individuals, including two INS officers, for legalization fraud, bribery, and tax evasion.
The failed Amnesty of 1986, to most people was just numbers without faces, poor people seeking work. Those of us actually trying to enforce the laws—which were largely unenforceable due to manpower restraints and politics—saw first hand the criminal events and impacts on society. Fraud, False Documents, identity theft, organized smuggling rings and numerous criminal classes of illegal aliens who were excludable at entry were problems then and now.
The Border Patrol and INS Investigators tried to enforce labor sanctions laws but were soon over-run by a secondary invasion from the borders by human traffickers bringing in “cheaper foreign laborers” from Guatemala and Central America.
A National Task Force should have been established soon after the failed policy became known. Thousands of additional Special Agents should have been made available throughout the U.S. with no other purpose than enforcing labor sanctions and establishing large fines for companies that continually violated the law by hiring illegal aliens. Strict enforcement would have prevented millions from entering without inspection. If all U.S. companies had feared massive fines for hiring cheap laborers, there would have been no financial advantage to displace citizen and legal resident alien workers.
One or two assigned Investigators to work IRCA frauds per state was hardly a force of any consequence—other than an opening for more fraudulent admissions.
But despite reports and requests from the field, politicians failed to take action.
Deportation of illegal aliens, criminal or otherwise was also a joke, an exercise in frustration that was ridiculous by any law enforcement standards.
There was always the Board of Immigration Appeals, and later the Executive Office for Immigration Review. Every measure by law enforcement to control the borders of the United States or to enforce compliance of immigration laws was hamstrung and rendered ineffective by litigation or political intervention.
In 2007 with an estimated 20 plus million illegal aliens expecting another blanket Amnesty from the President, Senate and Congress, it seems the conclusions of the OIG’s Investigation concerning widespread fraud were forgotten. Background checks and processing 20 plus million people? The U.S. State Department can not even handle the requests for U.S. Passports from our own citizens traveling abroad.
© 2007 John W. Slagle
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John W. Slagle is a U.S. Navy Aviation Veteran, Commercial Pilot, Multi-Engines rated and was a Firefighter, Engineer Lt. prior to United States Border Patrol service spanning 30 years. Duties included Agent/Medic, Special Tracking and Rescue Unit, Intelligence Officer, Sector Pilot to Criminal Investigator.
Slagle spent 12 years in undercover operations nationwide as a Special Agent, Anti-Smuggling Operations involving organized human trafficking, narcotics, certified Master Gun Smith and second degree Nidan black belt Goshin Iaido.
The failed Amnesty of 1986, to most people was just numbers without faces, poor people seeking work. Those of us actually trying to enforce the laws—which were largely unenforceable due to manpower restraints and politics—saw first hand the criminal events and impacts on society.