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< Back to current issue of Immigration Daily < Back to current issue of Immigrant's Weekly

The Investigations Division of INS, is the primary INS component responsible for interior enforcement and anti-smuggling operations. It may be compared to the plain-clothes detective divisions of state, county or local police departments. INS Investigations Special Agents rely on research of public records, interviews, informants, covert surveillance, as well as undercover and task force operations to initiate criminal prosecutions or administrative actions, such as deportation. Also, on a more limited basis, Border Patrol Agents and Inspectors may conduct investigations along the border, in addition to their primary functions.

Many investigations may involve individual violators and single or limited charges. However, many investigations result in multiple charges against the individual perpetrators. There is a great deal of emphasis focused on the investigation of criminal organizations, lead by or involving illegal aliens. Many of the cases investigated involve violators associated with large-scale, highly organized criminal organizations engaged in one or more illegal activities, such as alien smuggling, document counterfeiting, immigration benefit fraud, prostitution, drug trafficking, and involuntary servitude, among others. Also, Special Agents are permanent members of multi-agency task force operations focusing on alien gangs, drug trafficking and terrorism.

Criminal Aliens

Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) the INS can initiate removal (also known as deportation) proceedings against aliens who are convicted of or involved in certain criminal, immoral, drug or terrorist related acts. Criminal aliens may have been admitted to the United States legally or in an unlawful status. Aliens unlawfully in the United States are subject to removal regardless of whether they commit or are convicted of a crime.

There has been little disagreement on the removal of illegal aliens involved in criminal activity. The INS has long recognized the significant and undesirable impact of criminal alien activity on the Nation. Congressional acknowledgement has resulted in significant changes in the INA since 1986, providing resources and mandates to attack the rising criminal alien problem.

The INS has focused much effort on the capture and removal of criminal aliens by devoting resources to:

  1. Community task forces involving other law enforcement agencies to address local criminal activity involving aliens;
  2. Drug task forces with other law enforcement agencies to fight drug trafficking, particularly organized groups that are mostly run by aliens;
  3. Establish a regular or permanent presence at correctional facilities to identify and process for deportation incarcerated aliens immediately upon release from prison;
  4. Establishing a central contact point for law enforcement agencies to enable them to determine if the alien they have in custody is illegally in the United States and, if so, obtain INS assistance.

Criminal activities within certain alien populations are exacerbated by the emergence of non-traditional organized crime groups. This expansion of alien related crime is made more severe by the increasing sophistication and complexity of criminal organizations. Throughout the law enforcement community increased emphasis is being placed on combating these emerging crime groups. The Investigations Division has a unique and essential role in these efforts. Through years of experience INS special agents have developed valued expertise in dealing with foreign nationals. Removal from the United States is a powerful tool that can be used against foreign-born nationals involved in criminal activities, regardless of whether they have attained permanent resident status lawfully or through fraud or are illegal aliens.

Smuggling

Aliens enter the United States illegally in one of two ways: on their own or they are smuggled into this country. Smugglers fit into two basic groups: (1) Friends, relatives or other interested people may assist illegal entry for personal reasons; and (2) organized smuggling rings. The latter generally exists to make money: either from the cost of the transporting smuggled aliens; or by forcing the smuggled persons to work as indentured servants. Frequently, the smugglers transport the aliens with little or no concern for their welfare with devastating results, such as unnecessary injury or death of aliens. Other smuggled aliens have been forced, under the threat of physical harm or being exposed to the INS, to live and work in miserable conditions, even being forced into prostitution.

INS investigates all types of smuggling, but more emphasis is placed on organized smuggling that is composed of both small and large rings. The smaller groups tend to smuggle mostly large numbers of Mexican nationals. The larger groups are active internationally, primarily smuggling nationals from countries other than Mexico, charging significantly higher fees, and frequently involved in other criminal activities. Of course, it should be noted that some large organizations do smuggle Mexican Nationals into the United States.

According to INS’ November 1999 Intelligence Assessment, Colombian, Nigerian, Albanian, and Russian organized crime groups consider the United States as fertile ground for myriad criminal activities. Russian organized crime activities, including the suspected smuggling of Russian prostitutes, have expanded into major mid-western metropolitan areas, and Chinese organized crime groups control the smuggling of Peoples Republic of China (PRC) nationals into the United States.

Targeting major alien smuggling organizations for investigation and prosecution reduces smuggling entries and promotes deterrence. The INS coordinates anti-smuggling efforts of all INS divisions, including INS Investigations offices, INS overseas offices, INS Inspections at ports-of-entry, and INS Border Patrol units between ports-of-entry. Additionally, major investigations are frequently conducted with the cooperation and assistance of other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, as well as appropriate bureaus of foreign governments.

INS anti-smuggling agents apply specialized knowledge of foreign languages and cultures, and utilize sophisticated investigative techniques to successfully infiltrate and dismantle high level criminal organizations engaged in alien smuggling and serious crimes.

Community Response

The need for INS’ involvement in the enforcement of our Nation’s laws has increased dramatically within the last decade. As more and more law enforcement agencies (LEAs) request INS assistance in dealing with immigration-related issues within their areas of jurisdiction, INS’ ability to respond is critical. The majority of these contacts are requests for assistance in the removal of individual criminal aliens, response to the discovery of one of more aspects of alien smuggling operations, or assistance in the conduct of complex criminal investigations involving aliens. Failure to adequately respond to these requests may result in the erosion of public safety and national security.

Community relations encompass the realm of our enforcement efforts and touch all of those individuals and organizations with which we interact during the performance of our duties. Therefore, implementation of effective community relations and enforcement initiatives, along with the deployment of mutually beneficial, automated identification systems have unlimited potential for both INS and LEAs.

To augment INS field offices facing the ever increasing problem of the unlawful presence of foreign nationals in of the United States, the INS has established Quick Response Teams (QRTs) in certain communities. The QRTs are a critical element of the INS Interior Enforcement Strategy and may be compared to the Resident Agent offices of the FBI, DEA, and ATF that are located in the heartland of the Nation. The teams are strategically placed in locations along smuggling corridors used by smugglers to bring in aliens or in communities suffering from a growing illegal migration problem, either transient or resident. They are staffed by special agents and detention and removal officers to respond in a timely and effective manner to the local community needs. The teams enhance the INS Interior Enforcement Strategy’s goals to identify and remove illegal and criminal aliens, to disrupt and prosecute alien smuggling, and to build community partnerships through effective community policing and outreach efforts.

Fraud

The Nation's right to determine who may cross its borders, and preserve the integrity of that process are at the heart of fraud investigations. INS controls the admissibility of aliens into the United States. However, the use of fraud is pervasive, as the unabated desire of foreign nationals to emigrate to the United States by any means possible continues to generate many thousands of incidences of fraud each year to circumvent the legal process.

Investigative emphasis is placed on identifying and prosecuting cases involving the manufacture, distribution and use of counterfeit or altered immigration and identity documents to various misrepresentation schemes, including identity, relationships or other material facts.

Immigration fraud takes many forms, but generally falls into two broad categories: document fraud and benefit application fraud.

Document fraud encompasses the counterfeiting, sale, and/or use of identity documents or breeder documents such as birth certificates and social security cards, alien registration documents and stamps, passports and visas, and other documents and paperwork used to circumvent the immigration laws. Essentially, document fraud seeks to avoid detection.

Benefit application fraud involves the willful misrepresentation of a material fact to gain an immigration benefit in the absence of lawful entitlement. In point of fact, document fraud and benefit application fraud are often part of a continuum. Simply put, one tends to beget the other. Essentially, document fraud utilizes fraudulent documents to avoid detection to gain entry to the United States whereas benefit application fraud seeks to obtain some type of legal status, an immigration benefit. In other words, document fraud seeks to avoid detection while benefit fraud seeks legal acceptance. That legal acceptance or legal status is likely to be achieved using fraudulent documents.

Although many individual aliens seek to avoid detection through fraudulent documents, other aliens are involved in criminal activities of much greater magnitude. These aliens are frequently members of criminal groups/organizations that try to manipulate the system to perpetrate criminal schemes. Increasingly, fraudulent documents and fraudulently obtained immigration status are used by criminal aliens to facilitate illegal activities such as drug trafficking, violent crime, evasion of employer sanctions, and the perpetration of entitlement fraud.

Worksite Enforcement

The landmark 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) legislation changed forever the concept of traditional immigration interior enforcement, making it unlawful to employ an individual without verifying the identity and employment eligibility of an employee at the time of hire, thereby shifting emphasis from the alien violator to the employer.

The goal of worksite enforcement is removal of the “magnet” that attracts or pulls many aliens to enter and/or remain illegally in the United States. Many illegal entrants and status violators come solely for the job opportunities available in the United States labor market. With effective enforcement of sanctions (a tiered system of civil money and criminal penalties) the pull effect is reduced and jobs are preserved for United States citizens and aliens lawfully authorized to work in the United States.

The current enforcement strategy is to focus primarily on worksite enforcement investigations that involve alien smuggling, human rights abuses and other criminal violations. Additionally, INS continues to conduct administrative investigations of employers who are violating the law but do not meet the threshold for criminal prosecution. More specifically, these investigations focus primarily on employers who commit substantive violations of the employment-related provisions of the INA. Agents arrest and identify unauthorized aliens at the worksite only as a result of criminal and administrative investigations of employers, not as a primary targeting strategy.

 


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