U.S. authorities have arrested six people in Imperial County and charged them with fraudulently attempting to obtain temporary legal status for illegal aliens under the farm labor provisions of the new immigration law.
Among those arrested last week, said Kevin J. McInerney, an assistant U.S. attorney in San Diego, were two illegal aliens who submitted allegedly false claims, and others who submitted allegedly fraudulent letters asserting that they had hired the aliens to perform agricultural labor. In the latter category, officials said, are a labor contractor from Bakersfield and another from El Centro, a farm foreman from Andrade, and two individuals charged as vendors of fraudulent documents in Mexico.
In all, according to the U.S. attorney's office in San Diego, about two dozen people are being held in connection with the case, including some material witnesses who are not expected to be charged. Complaints were filed last week with the U.S. magistrate in El Centro.
Officials said it was the first case they could recall in which alleged fraud has been uncovered in applications filed under the Special Agricultural Worker section of the 1986 immigration law. Authorities are also said to be reviewing applications filed by Haitian immigrants in Florida.
Temporary Legal Residence
The farm labor legalization provisions--which were included in the immigration statute largely at the insistence of Western growers concerned about maintaining their work force--provide a more liberal form of legalization, or "amnesty," for agricultural laborers. The law raises the possibility of temporary legal residence for foreigners who can show that they have worked with perishable crops for at least 90 days during the one-year period ending May 1, 1986.
Applicants under the general amnesty program must meet a different standard: They must demonstrate that they have lived illegally in the United States since Jan. 1, 1982.
Since the new immigration bill was signed into law last Nov. 6, many observers have predicted that it would provide an additional boost to the already-booming trade in false immigration documents. U.S. authorities have said that they would vigorously prosecute amnesty fraud, and amnesty-related fraud cases have been filed by prosecutors throughout the United States.
However, officials say the incidence of fraud has not been overwhelming.
"I don't think it has been as pervasive as predicted," said Duke Austin, a spokesman with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in Washington.
In the Imperial Valley case, federal prosecutors filed formal charges last week against seven individuals. One of them, Luis Bustamante of Yuma, Ariz., has yet to be apprehended. The six others are in federal custody. All were charged in connection with applications filed at the INS farm-worker legalization office at the port of entry in Calexico, just across the border from Mexicali, Mexico.
The suspects were charged with making false statements to federal agents or with conspiracy to defraud the United States through false statements. All face jail terms of up to five years and maximum fines of $250,000. A grand jury in San Diego is expected to hear some of the evidence Wednesday and could issue indictments, officials said.
Court documents show that two illegal aliens arrested--Antonio Rodriguez Chiquito, 33, of Tijuana, and Raul Mendoza Magaleno, 32, of Mexicali--admitted that, while in Mexico, they paid $175 each for letters attesting that they had worked as farm laborers in the United States.
Also arrested were Roy Perez, 60, a labor contractor from Bakersfield, who allegedly wrote letters for four aliens claiming that they had performed agricultural work for him in 1985; Mario Lopez Carrera, 61, of San Luis, Ariz., who allegedly helped six aliens submit fraudulent applications; Matilda Lugo, 59, of Gadsden, Ariz., and Roberto Guerrero of San Luis, Mexico.