Fake Immigrant Papers Are Genuine Growth Industry

Fake immigrant papers are genuine growth industry
Illegal immigrants seeking work don't get far without documents, and counterfeiters are getting rich through underground operations.

By James Walsh
The Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), May 14, 2009

Illegal immigrants in southeastern Minnesota who wanted fake green cards or Social Security numbers knew where to go — a Rochester apartment used by Rodrigo Zambrano and Mateo Rosales.

It is tempting, immigration officials say, to think of the counterfeit document business as a small-time cottage industry, but it is a lucrative national enterprise with 'offices' here in Minnesota. It is the business that makes much illegal immigration possible, said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge of criminal investigations in Minnesota for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

'The estimates are that there are 12 million illegal aliens in this country,' Arnold said. 'The vast majority are here to work. And they can't work without these documents.'

Locally, St. Paul is home to one of several ICE branches across the country devoted to documents and benefits fraud. While Arnold said he has no way to measure the scope of the counterfeit document business in Minnesota, 'I'd say it's a lot bigger than people think or know about.'

You don't have to tell that to police in Willmar. They have had more than 200 identity theft cases involving illegal immigrants over the past couple of years, Arnold said.

In a recent case handled by the Minnetonka Police Department, an illegal immigrant who wanted to work at a Burger King went down to an area of Lake Street in Minneapolis known for its counterfeit document vendors and bought a Social Security number of a U.S. citizen with a Hispanic surname. Trouble was, the citizen — a Los Angeles resident — got into trouble with the IRS for failing to report income he didn't know about — the money made by the Minnetonka man at Burger King, said Detective Sgt. Dave Riegert of the Minnetonka Police Department.

The Los Angeles man contacted the LAPD, which traced payroll records back to Minnetonka, Riegert said. Minnetonka police later arrested the illegal immigrant.