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Food Stamps Fund TerroristsFox News – by Matt Hayes - November 29, 2002
(11/28/02) - After he’d gone 90 days without payment, my law firm informed Shihad that we could do no more on his case until he made a payment. He pulled a wad of food stamps our of his wallet and said, "Give me some time to sell these."
Shihad, who’d won his asylum case a few months earlier, might have been eligible for food stamps, but he wasn't eligible to sell them. No one is. It's a crime. "Shihad," I said, "I'm withdrawing. You're trying to pay me with the proceeds of a crime."
The commonness of food stamp fraud among America's new immigrants is staggering. Many recent immigrants do not even understand that selling food stamps is a crime, representing, as they do, a form of individualized assistance. Most look at food stamps as just one more thing to barter, so for between 10 and 80 cents on the dollar, they are converted to cash. Never mind that the food stamp was invented to prevent public assistance, formerly given in cash, from being frittered away on non-food items.
How much money is lost each year to food stamp fraud? About $30 million, according to the best estimate provided by the Washington Department of Social and Health Services. But recent immigrants are not just selling the food stamps they receive, they profit from it, too.
Large scale food stamp fraud came to light in an explosive way in 1996, when authorities in Ohio discovered that a Jordanian man and his uncle had deposited $24 million in purchased food stamps in the bank accounts associated with their chain of food and video stores. Just before authorities descended on them with arrest warrants, they deeded their property over to their wives, which included $300,000 homes, and fled to Jordan.
More recently, food stamp fraud has been refined by "asylees" -- asylum seekers -- fleeing Somalia, where rampant starvation serves as the basis of those asylum claims. Asylees are one of a very small number of immigrant groups who are normally eligible for food stamps. Last year, according to documents filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office with the District Court in Seattle, Wash., a ring of Somali couples based in Washington leveraged their skills into a multi-layered public assistance fraud that even involved cash payments from the government. One of the couples netted $40,000 in food stamp fraud alone. Be comforted that the United States was not their only victim. The ring claimed residences on both sides of the border, and Canada, too, was taken for many tens of thousands of dollars.
Food stamp fraud has taken on more sinister dimensions within the last year and a half. Last autumn, the FBI determined that the Somali asylee community in Seattle, set with food stamps and other forms of public assistance, was targeted by the Al-Barakaat Wire Transfer company, a wire transfer and hawala banking outfit with known connections to Al Qaeda. Al-Barakaat set up a storefront in Seattle and immediately went to work selling Qat, a mild narcotic popular with Somalis, and converting food stamps to money for Somalis to send back to their relatives in Somalia. The FBI believes Al-Barakaat skimmed tens of millions of dollars off of the proceeds of these two activities, and funneled it directly to Al Qaeda.
According to the testimony provided by New York City detectives to a U.S. Senate subcommittee in connection with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, corporate America has been victimized by precisely the same dynamic with coupon fraud, unwittingly funding terrorism by as much as $125 million annually.
Financial relationships of trust -- applications for public assistance that require the truthful disclosure of income information, a store's capacity to deposit for payment only those food stamps that have actually been exchanged for food or coupons that have been presented in connection with the actual sale of a consumer item -- are often completely alien to new immigrants. Many new immigrants have told me that they simply cannot believe that the government trusts them to honestly provide their income information on a food stamp application.
America is entirely too loose with its money, and its new immigrants know it. As recent raids and prosecutions have shown, greater oversight of programs like the one that makes food stamps readily available to new immigrants is crucial. A week after I told Shihad that I'd filed to withdraw from his case, he returned to get a copy of his file. He'd been able to sell the food stamps, he told me, and had received enough to retain a new lawyer.
Matt Hayes began practicing immigration law shortly after graduating from Pace University School of Law in 1994, representing new immigrants in civil and criminal matters. He recently left the New York City law practice he founded in 1997 for the "more normal life" of insurance defense, and is co-author of The New Immigration Law and Practice, a textbook to be pubished by West Legal Publications in October, 2003.
Illegal Mexican Traffic Picks UpNew York Times – by Jim Yardley - November 25, 2002
(11/24/02) - McALLEN, Tex. — The first reminder that human cargo was again steadily moving north from Mexico came in July, when more than 40 people, two of them dead, were found in a truck in Dallas. Then in August, border agents in Sarita, Tex., found 73 men, women and children alive and packed in a tractor-trailer filled with rotten watermelons.
Then in October, in Iowa, the skeletons of 11 people, some later identified as Mexican laborers, were discovered in a locked car of the train that had ferried them north. Weeks later, border agents in Laredo, Tex., found 51 people, uncomfortable but breathing, in a tractor-trailer that had tried to slip past a checkpoint.
The incidents offer vivid evidence that the abrupt slowdown in illegal immigration after the Sept. 11 attacks is over. So do recent statistics compiled by the United States Border Patrol, which show that apprehensions of illegal immigrants — the barometer for measuring activity along the border — are roughly back to where they were before Sept. 11.
"We're running about even with last year, maybe slightly higher," said Ray Garza, assistant chief of the Border Patrol's McAllen sector, which covers South Texas.
Mr. Garza and other officials added that tightened security along the border had made the crossing more dangerous and expensive, since the services of smugglers, known as "coyotes," were now almost always required. The people found in the truck in Dallas, for example, had each paid $1,500 to $2,000, a huge sum for someone who might be lucky to find a $6-an-hour job in this country.
Mario Villarreal, a Border Patrol spokesman in Washington, said the inflated smuggling fees were the result of the increased difficulty of crossing the Rio Grande after a huge expansion of border agents in the 1990's. "Because of the increased enforcement, it's much harder to enter the United States, and that has driven fees up from $1,000 to $2,000 per person from Mexico," he said.
Border Patrol officials often characterize smuggling rings as large, sophisticated operations that are sometimes intertwined with drug trafficking operations. Mr. Villarreal said one smuggling ring was known to send a group of illegal immigrants in one direction as a decoy.
Some analysts say the image of a high-tech human smuggling ring can be misleading. Often, they say, the rings may be a handful of family members or acquaintances who own safe houses along the route north.
One woman here in South Texas, whose nephew used a smuggler to cross, said the local rings often communicated by cellphones and pagers, tipping one another to patrols. The woman, who would only allow the use of her given name, Elizabeth, said the smugglers falsified documents to help people pass checkpoints on the international bridges. For those without papers, smugglers often provide safe houses, then transport groups to Border Patrol checkpoints in towns like Sarita and Falfurrias.
"They will take them to Sarita, and then tell them how to walk," said Elizabeth. She said immigrants would walk through the scrub desert to avoid the checkpoints along the highways and then be picked up at an assigned spot by a smuggler to continue north. In the summer, when temperatures exceed 100 degrees, the bodies of immigrants who were lost or abandoned by smugglers are sometimes found in the desert.
The Rev. Mike Seifert, pastor of San Felipe De Jesus Catholic Church in Cameron Park, a border community, said only the determination of Mexicans and others to find a better life could explain their willingness to place themselves in the custody of smugglers. He said he had counseled women who had told horrific tales of smugglers raping and intimidating them on the trip north..
"They traffic in human misery," Father Seifert said. "They make their living out of people's desperation, and their price goes up with it."
Fernando Garcia, executive director of Border Network for Human Rights, an El Paso advocacy group for immigrant groups, said coyotes were a creation of the Border Patrol policies in the last decade, such as Operation Hold the Line in El Paso, Operation Gatekeeper in San Diego and Operation Rio Grande in South Texas. These crackdowns involved increased patrols, as the Border Patrol, in some areas, more than doubled its number of agents.
As a result, the journey has become harder as immigration routes have moved from city crossings to the desert. They "put more risk on the immigrants trying to cross the border," Mr. Garcia said. "One of the immediate results was deaths on the border. The other major consequence of these operations and policies is that they actually gave the coyotes a reason to exist."
Mr. Villarreal, the Border Patrol spokesman, said the patrol's crackdowns were in keeping with its mission of securing the border against illegal immigration and smuggling. He said border agents had rescued hundreds of immigrants abandoned by smugglers. He also said the policy has worked, noting that the number of apprehensions had fallen from more than 1.6 million in 2000 to fewer than 1 million in fiscal year 2002.
The biggest crackdown, of course, occurred after Sept. 11, when crossing on border bridges ground to a virtual halt. Trips that had previously taken a half hour suddenly took half a day. And the number of apprehensions plummeted, falling 25 percent during the 2002 fiscal year.
Gradually, numbers have been returning to previous levels. In August, more than 82,000 people were caught on the southern border, compared with about 84,000 in 2001. In September, 15,000 more people were apprehended than last September, though that number probably reflects the Sept. 11 crackdown.
42 Charged in Alien SchemeThe Charlotte Observer – by Gary L. Wright - November 24, 2002
Federal authorities say Charlotte is center of ring providing fake immigration papers
(11/23/02) - An immigration fraud ring centered in Charlotte bribed an undercover agent posing as a corrupt immigration official and tried to sell fake documents to allow illegal aliens from China, Hong Kong and Malaysia to enter or stay in the United States, federal authorities announced Friday.
An indictment unsealed Friday charged 42 men and women, many, if not all, originally from east Asia, and accused them of either running the crime organization or illegally purchasing immigration and identification documents from it.
Authorities said the criminal organization operated in and around Charlotte and stretched across the United States and into China and Thailand.
The indictment identified eight of the defendants as creating, controlling and operating the fraudulent scheme. The 42 defendants live in Charlotte, Matthews, Kings Mountain, New York, Florida, California, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Indiana and New Jersey.
During the 11/2-year investigation, suspects paid $292,400 to the undercover agent for the illegal immigration documents, authorities said. The illegal aliens typically paid $7,500 for each document. Many paid $45,000 for a single document
Some paid in cocaine and Ecstasy, according to the indictment.
U.S. Attorney Bob Conrad announced the unsealing of the 132-count indictment at a news conference Friday.
He was joined by leaders of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the U.S. Secret Service, the Social Security Administration's Office of Inspector General and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.
Conrad told reporters that his office is committed to the national effort to preserve homeland security.
"Recent history has demonstrated that we must be vigilant in the enforcement of the nation's immigration and identity laws," Conrad said.
Nothing uncovered during the investigation indicated any kind of terrorist threat, the prosecutor said. But he noted that "the nation's law enforcement efforts have been redirected toward terrorism prevention and the enforcement of federal laws that enable terrorist activities.
"The misuse of immigration and government identification documents can create vulnerabilities in our national security, and we will take proactive steps to ensure that persons entering and residing in the United States are in this country legally."
All 42 defendants have been charged with conspiring to possess fraudulently and unlawfully obtained immigration documents, possession of unlawfully produced identification documents, bribery of a federal official and encouraging or inducing an alien to reside unlawfully in the United States.
Some also have been charged with drug offenses.
Authorities on Thursday began arresting the suspects. By Friday, 21 of the 42 suspects were in custody. Arrests were made in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark and Charlotte.
"The leaders and managers of this criminal organization solicited illegal aliens from China, Hong Kong and Malaysia to purchase the INS documents in an effort to facilitate their illegal entry or efforts to unlawfully remain in this country," authorities said in a prepared statement.
Authorities said the "customers" of the organization obtained the INS documents from a person purporting to be a corrupt INS agent named Richard Hanson working in Charlotte. That agent, in fact, was an undercover INS agent.
The defendants also obtained documents from a person who pretended to serve as a broker for the undercover INS agent, authorities said. The broker was really a confidential informant working with the INS and the Secret Service.
The customers seeking to enter or remain in the United States provided biographical information, fingerprints and photographs. On most occasions, the illegal aliens met with the undercover agent at a Charlotte-area hotel.
During those meetings, according to prosecutors, the illegal aliens were informed that they were being provided the documents in a fraudulent and illegal manner and that the transactions circumvented the laws and regulations governing the lawful admission and residence of aliens in the United States.
Agencies Monitor Iraqis in the U.S.New York Times – by D. Johnston, D. Van Natta - November 18, 2002
WASHINGTON, Nov. 16 — The Bush administration has begun to monitor Iraqis in the United States in an effort to identify potential domestic terrorist threats posed by sympathizers of the Baghdad regime, senior government officials said.
The previously undisclosed intelligence program involves tracking thousands of Iraqi citizens and Iraqi-Americans with dual citizenship who are attending American universities or working at private corporations, and who might pose a risk in the event of a United States-led war against Iraq, officials said.
Some of the targets of the operation are being electronically monitored under the authority of national security warrants. Others are being selected for recruitment as informers, the officials said.
In the event of an American invasion of Iraq, officials would intensify the program's mission through arrests and detentions of Iraqis or Iraq sympathizers if they are believed to be planning domestic terrorist operations.
The government officials who confirmed the outlines of the program did so in an apparent effort to rebut critics in Congress and elsewhere who have complained recently that American intelligence agencies are failing in their war against terror. Senior Democratic senators have said the problems are demonstrated by the government's inability to find Osama bin Laden and to identify specific threats since the Sept. 11 attacks.
The Iraqi domestic intelligence program is an addition to the government's continuing effort since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon to identify citizens of Middle Eastern countries who represent a potential threat. Those efforts have also been stepped up as the country prepares for the possibility of war.
Next week, federal authorities plan to begin interviewing Arab-Americans, asking them to report suspicious activity related to Iraq, a senior government official said. The interviews will be voluntary, but in the past, such efforts have been criticized by Arab-American groups. The F.B.I. is planning to meet with Arab-American civic leaders to explain the nonclassified aspects of the operation, officials said.
Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the White House Office of Homeland Security, declined to comment on the surveillance program, which is classified. The effort by intelligence agencies, particularly the F.B.I., to strengthen and expand their counterterrorism programs comes at a time of serious discussion in Congress and in the Bush administration about whether to create a domestic intelligence agency like MI-5, the British agency that collects information about internal threats.
Senior Bush administration counterterrorism officials gathered on Veterans Day at a White House meeting directed by Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, to discuss whether to strip the F.B.I. of its domestic security responsibilities. The meeting was first reported today by The Washington Post.
No one in the administration has formally proposed creating a domestic intelligence agency. Several officials said dismantling the F.B.I. remained an uncertain prospect, but they said a wide range of ideas were likely to be considered with the creation of a Homeland Security Department.
Another part of the new intelligence operation involves a focused effort to assess whether the regime of Saddam Hussein has engaged in any actions, through alliances with Middle Eastern terrorist organizations or efforts to obtain weapons, that could threaten American interests in this country or abroad. The operation is also tracing the movement of money by the Iraqi government, and organizations sympathetic with Iraq, around the world.
The officials said the monitoring had not detected any specific threats in the United States or against American interests overseas.
The operation draws on the experience of a smaller program that was undertaken in the Persian Gulf war with Iraq in 1991, a conflict that resulted in little immediate threat of terrorism in the United States. During the war, the F.B.I. and the Immigration and Naturalization Service conducted thousands of interviews with Iraqis and other Arab-Americans in the United States and investigated hundreds of Iraqis who had entered the United States on visitors' visas and had not left when their entry permits expired.
A large number of government agencies are part of the new operation, including the Pentagon, the F.B.I., the Central Intelligence Agency, the immigration service, the State Department and the National Security Agency, which eavesdrops on communications around the world, officials said.
Officials said the operation would also step up monitoring of Iraq's foreign intelligence service, which they believe operates under diplomatic cover from Baghdad's mission at the United Nations.
"This is the largest and most aggressive program like this we've ever had," said one senior government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "We think we know who most of the bad guys are, but we are going to be very proactive here and not take any chances."
Senator Bob Graham, the Florida Democrat who is departing as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in an interview this week that American intelligence agencies, in particular the F.B.I., had failed to consider the full range of threats that might stem from a war with Iraq.
Mr. Graham said that beyond threats from Al Qaeda, American intelligence agencies had not adequately assessed threats posed by other Middle Eastern terror groups that are likely to be inflamed by a war with Iraq, among them Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
"I think we make a mistake when we assume that the threat is only Al Qaeda," Mr. Graham said. "There are a lot of terror groups out there, some of them with a large presence in the United States, who shouldn't be dismissed because in the past they have not attacked in the United States."
Intelligence analysts said that for years the authorities have tracked the movements of Islamic militant groups in the United States. The groups were subjected to scrutiny because they engaged in fund-raising or criminal activity that brought them into contact with law enforcement agencies, the officials said. In contrast, Qaeda operatives like the 19 hijackers lived quietly and, except for a handful of minor traffic violations, did not break the law.
But Mr. Graham said that F.B.I. officials, in closed sessions with the committee, had been unable to provide basic information about Islamic militant groups with a presence in the United States.
"The kinds of questions that I've asked are: how many operatives are in the United States, where are they distributed, what is their infrastructure — financially, logistically and with communications," Mr. Graham said. "It's the same inability to answer."
For 90 minutes on Friday, Mr. Graham met with Robert S. Mueller III, the F.B.I. director, to discuss his concerns. Mr. Mueller presented the senator with a briefing of current counterterrorism operations in the United States, officials said.
"Mr. Mueller was more forthcoming than in past sessions, and that seemed to satisfy the senator," said Paul Anderson, a spokesman for Senator Graham.
However, Mr. Anderson said that Senator Graham believed the F.B.I. "has a long way to go" in its domestic counterterrorism efforts, "and very few days in which to get there," a reference to the possibility that a military confrontation with Iraq could occur within three months.
American officials contend that the Iraqi intelligence service learned a lesson from its failure to engage in anti-American terrorist activities during the first gulf war. Iraq's efforts were disrupted by the C.I.A. and the F.B.I., and it was unable to mount any successful terrorist attacks against American interests.
After the gulf war, Iraq botched an attempt to assassinate former President George Bush on a visit to Kuwait in 1993, prompting President Bill Clinton to order a cruise missile strike at the Iraqi intelligence headquarters building in Baghdad. Since then, according to the C.I.A., there is no evidence that Iraq has engaged in terrorist activity against the United States.
The Bush administration has said it has evidence of contacts over the years between Iraqi intelligence and Qaeda operatives, and there have been reports that some Qaeda operatives moved into Iraq after fleeing Afghanistan. But American intelligence officials say there is no evidence that Iraq has become involved in Qaeda terrorist operations, and the Bush administration has never found hard evidence that Iraq played any role in the Sept. 11 attacks.
Drug and Immigrant PipelineNew York Times – by Tim Golden – November 17, 2002
(11/16/02) - DALTON, Ga. — This sturdy town in the Appalachian foothills likes to call itself "the carpet capital of the world," and its industry has thrived over the last decade as thousands of Mexican immigrants have flocked to jobs in the mills.
More recently, though, federal and local law enforcement officials say the same pipeline of immigration and trade has been exploited by Mexican drug traffickers, who have helped turn this corner of northwestern Georgia into a busy distribution center for methamphetamine and other drugs.
In Dalton and surrounding areas, drug arrests have steadily risen since the late 1990's, police officials said. Gang-related violence has become common. Outside the police headquarters, a fenced-in lot is perpetually filled with cars, most of them impounded from people suspected of being in the drug trade.
"We keep arresting people and seizing drugs, but they just keep coming," said Chief James D. Chadwick of the Dalton police. "We're in a boat with a big hole. We can keep bailing, but the hole's still there."
Dalton is by no means alone. From Alaska to South Carolina, law enforcement officials said, Mexican traffickers have taken advantage of spreading Mexican immigration and freer North American trade to establish themselves as the dominant wholesale suppliers of illegal drugs across much of the United States. The officials said the shift, in which the Mexicans have both displaced other traffickers and opened new markets themselves, has meant a steadily more efficient flow of drugs into the United States, even as border controls have tightened since Sept. 11.
For the traffickers, places like Dalton are often excellent sites to do business, close to growing rural markets and within easy highway access of big cities — in Dalton's case, Atlanta, Chattanooga and Charlotte, among others. The towns offer the cover of hard-working immigrants and a pool of potential recruits among the out of luck and unemployed.
By establishing new distribution hubs far inside the United States, the traffickers are also posing new problems for undermanned rural police forces and for federal agencies like the Drug Enforcement Administration that have long concentrated their resources in border cities.
Traffickers from Mexico have long sold marijuana and heroin in American cities, particularly in the West and Southwest. Since the late 1980's, officials said, they have also contracted with drug producers in Colombia and elsewhere to smuggle most of the cocaine that enters the United States.
But in the last decade, according to government officials and a series of reports on drug surveillance, Mexican traffickers have come to control considerably more of the United States' illegal drug supply.
They have improved the quality and increased the output of Mexican heroin and marijuana. They have negotiated to receive more cocaine from South American producers as in-kind payment for the loads they smuggle into the United States. They pioneered the large-scale production of methamphetamine, the United States' fastest-growing illegal drug, and they have scrambled to start producing other synthetic drugs like MDMA, or ecstasy.
"They have certainly emerged as the major wholesalers throughout the country," said Michael T. Horn, director of the National Drug Intelligence Center, a Justice Department agency that analyzes drug trafficking in the United States. "Their influence is moving aggressively eastward, and they are very aggressive about getting into parts of the drug trade that transcend their traditional involvement in marijuana and heroin."
Although it is impossible to determine how much of the drug trade Mexicans control, federal prosecutions point to their growing role. From 1994 to 2000, the number of Mexican citizens jailed in the United States on federal drug-trafficking charges nearly doubled, to 8,752 from 4,394.
Like the legitimate businessmen energized by the loosening of North American trade, the traffickers have sought new economies of scale, taken advantage of the freer movement of Mexican trucking into the United States and even shifted some production closer to consumers.
In Hawaii, drug intelligence officials said, Mexican distributors have now overtaken Asian organized-crime groups as the primary suppliers of crystal methamphetamine, or "ice," which is the islands' most serious drug problem.
In the Central Valley of California, Mexican methamphetamine producers have built scores of so-called super labs that turn out 10 or 20 times the amount of drugs that biker gangs and other traffickers historically produced, federal reports show. Elsewhere in the state, Mexican traffickers have begun growing marijuana in national forests.
From bases on the West Coast, officials said, the Mexican traffickers have moved across the Northwest and Midwest, hiding among fruit pickers in Washington, resort workers in Colorado and construction workers in Minnesota.
Like the Los Angeles street gangs that helped spread crack in the late 1980's, Mexican traffickers have followed Interstate highways to the Southeast, feeding a surge in methamphetamine use in states like Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee. They have also built bases in New York, Florida and other former strongholds of Colombian dealers.
So far, the Mexican traffickers' growing role in wholesale distribution in the United States has been accomplished with relatively little violence, officials said. In part, they said, that is a consequence of the breakup of Colombian cocaine cartels and the Colombians' focus on more profitable markets in Europe.
In many areas, officials said, Mexican traffickers have worked cooperatively with Colombian and Dominican traffickers, offering drugs on credit and helping to launder the profits. In other instances, the Mexicans have carved out sales turf by underselling Dominicans, Nigerians and American-born traffickers.
Mexican traffickers have also become more efficient, drug intelligence officials said. By smuggling large numbers of smaller drug loads across the border and around the United States in the process known as shotgunning, they have lowered the risk and thereby reduced transportation costs. By moving their distribution hubs away from the border, to the areas around cities like Atlanta and Chicago, they have kept drug supplies and prices more stable.
"The southwest border isn't along the Rio Grande anymore," said W. Michael Furgason, the special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration's Atlanta office. "It's in Atlanta and North Carolina and Chicago and even Yonkers and New Rochelle."
In addition, some Mexican drug gangs, like Colombian cartels before them, have organized themselves into networks of smaller, semiautonomous units responsible for specific tasks like building false compartments in cars or obtaining the chemicals to make synthetic drugs, officials say.
Those smaller groups may be even harder for law enforcement agencies to pursue, as is becoming evident in places like Dalton. Despite the city's changing demographics, the Dalton police force has only one fluent Spanish speaker among its 86 officers, and almost no capacity to infiltrate tight-knit Mexican criminal groups.
"The chances of these people getting caught are now somewhere between slim and none," Chief Chadwick said. "If the state patrol stops somebody on the highway and gets a load nowadays, it's pure accident."
Dalton has long had its share of drug problems, and its drug users remained overwhelmingly white and African-American. Police officials said drug abuse remained relatively low among Hispanic residents, who make up 22 to 35 percent of the 45,000 residents of the greater Dalton region.
But where local methamphetamine cooks might turn out a couple of pounds of the drug at a time, Mexican traffickers offer much larger quantities and lower prices, police officials said, attracting dealers from nearby areas of Tennessee and North Carolina as well as Georgia.
"The sad truth is that our community is becoming known as a key area for the distribution and manufacture of narcotics," members of a Whitfield County grand jury wrote earlier this year in an unusual open letter to local newspapers.
The Mexican traffickers are notably low profile, and police officials say the immigrant workers on whom they prey are similarly discreet.
T. Jefferson Morris, a Spanish-speaking criminal defense lawyer in Salisbury, N.C., said he had seen a clear pattern in the recruitment of drug couriers. "Within two weeks of one of these guys' losing his job," Mr. Morris said, "he will be approached by somebody who will say: `I know you have a family and you need money. I'll give you $1,500 to deliver something for me.' "
When the couriers are arrested, they often do not know whom they are working for, and while the police might jail them, the traffickers can usually do worse — like threatening their families back in Mexico.
When federal and state law enforcement agents in Kannapolis, N.C., stopped Mexicans in a car carrying 27 pounds of methamphetamine, with a wholesale value of about $175,000, they were struck by more than the quantity of drugs.
The car, bought in Atlanta, had been driven to Southern California, outfitted with a hidden compartment for drugs, agents said, and an atlas showed the courier had simply headed east on Interstate 40 until reaching a trailer park on the edge of Kannapolis.
Federal law enforcement officials said much of the area's methamphetamine appeared to originate in the western Mexican state of Michoacán and in California, with clans of Mexican traffickers who dispatch their members to supervise distribution of the drugs in the United States.
"They deal with their own people and no one else, and they are extremely difficult to penetrate," a federal official said.
Nor do the Mexican distributors in the United States seem to have been weakened by a series of recent arrests of major traffickers in Mexico.
So far, the growing presence of Mexican drug distributors has yet to create much of a backlash for the immigrant workers they hide among. Even in places like Dalton — where Mexicans are credited with helping save jobs in plants that might have moved elsewhere because of labor shortages — the drug problem has begun to unnerve some of those who have tried to help accommodate the newcomers.
Unlike business leaders in some neighboring cities, those in Dalton have strongly supported Mexican immigrants, calling them saviors of a carpet industry weakened by aging American workers.
Nonetheless, the town sits in a region that is still growing accustomed to the presence of Mexican grocers and taquerías, and where the new immigrants still prompt fights at school-board meetings and occasional marches by the Ku Klux Klan.
"There are people everywhere in New York and Los Angeles, and in Dalton, Ga., who are going to say, `These people are not like us; their morals are different,' " said Erwin Mitchell, a former Democratic congressman who founded an innovative program to absorb Latino children into the local schools.
"But this is a place where not one American job has been lost to immigrant workers," Mr. Mitchell added. "And because of these immigrant workers, thousands of jobs have been saved for Americans."
Airport Security FailureCNN – by Phil Hirschkorn - November 15, 2002
(11/14/02) - NEWARK, New Jersey (CNN) -- Federal officials charged 21 men Thursday with using fake Social Security and immigration status cards to obtain jobs that gave them access to high security areas at Newark International Airport.
There was no indication that the case was connected to terrorists, said a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie.
At least 10 of the men had been arrested by midmorning on charges that include document fraud, possessing a counterfeit Social Security number, and making false statements, said Christie's spokesman, Michael Drewniak.
The suspects range in age from 21 to 56 and appeared to have predominantly Latino surnames. Some are legal permanent residents or naturalized U.S. citizens.
"They do everything from housekeeping to food service and baggage handling. Some had access to international flight areas, tarmac, and planes," Drewniak said.
"We have no such evidence these people were involved with a terrorist organization," he added, nor are they suspected of coordinating their alleged fraud.
Most of the men lived in the Newark and Elizabeth, New Jersey area. Authorities were seeking to arrest all of them Thursday. Those in custody were expected to make an initial appearance in federal court Thursday afternoon.
The investigation at Newark Airport has been going on since the September 11 terrorist attacks and has involved the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Social Security Administration, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the airport, officials said.
A spokesman for the Port Authority, Alan Morrison, said the bistate transportation agency strongly advocated more stringent background checks for all airport employees. Morrison said the Port Authority shares responsibility for airport security with the airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration.
"All these people were able to take advantage of a gross security failure at this airport. These people could come in with a bogus Social Security numbers and get employed," Drewniak said. "The upshot is, post-September 11th, anybody could do this."
Who Let Lee Malvo Loose And Why?JewishWorldReview.com - by Michelle Malkin – November 3, 2002
(10/24/02) - The mainstream media informed us this week that Lee Malvo, the reportedly "17-year-old" youth charged as a material witness in the sniper investigation along with John Mohammed, is a "Jamaican national." As of this writing (Oct. 24), the Immigration and Naturalization Service refused to comment publicly on the exact nature of Malvo's immigration status.
Here are the facts the INS doesn't want you to know: Lee Malvo is an illegal alien from Jamaica who jumped ship in Miami in June 2001. He was apprehended by the Border Patrol in Bellingham, Wash., in December 2001, but was then let go by the INS district in Seattle in clear violation of federal law and contrary to what the arresting Border Patrol officers intended, according to my law enforcement sources.
According to INS records I obtained, Malvo was arrested by Border Patrol agents in Bellingham, Wash., on December 19, 2001. Local police called the Border Patrol during an incident involving "some sort of custody dispute" between Malvo's mother, Uma Sceon James, and John Mohammed (the ex-Army soldier with black radical Muslim ties now at the center of the sniper investigation). James admitted that six months earlier, "she and her son were passengers on a cargo ship that was filled with 'illegal asians (sic).' They were all off loaded in the Miami, FL area where she immediately located work at the Red Lobster in Ft. Myers, FL."
From there, Malvo and James traveled to Tacoma, Wash., and ended up in Bellingham. At the time of their arrest, INS records indicate, neither Malvo nor his mother had any documents proving their identities or allowing them "to be or remain in the United States legally." The Border Patrol agents concluded that because she had "no roots or close family ties in the United States, James was likely to abscond." The arresting officer noted that the mother-and-son illegal aliens, Malvo and James, would be "detained at the Seattle Detention facility in Seattle, Washington pending deportation charges."
That's not what happened. About a month after their arrest, Malvo and his mother were set free by the Seattle district INS-contrary to what the arresting Border Patrol officers had determined should be done. And in clear violation of federal law regarding the removal of illegal alien stowaways. According to the Detention and Deportation Officers' Field Manual:
"Occasionally, you may encounter an alien who claims to be a stowaway, but cannot or will not provide information concerning the name of the vessel of arrival. Prior to April 1, 1997, such aliens could be handled in the same way as any other EWI [entered without inspection] case and placed into removal proceedings. The [Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act], however, directs that stowaways, regardless of when encountered, are to be removed without a hearing.citing section 235(a)(2) of the Act as the authority for the action."
The law is explicit: Illegal alien stowaways are to be detained and deported without hearings. James admitted that she and her son were illegal alien stowaways. Yet, in January 2002, James was released on a $1,500 bond; Malvo was set loose without any bond on his own recognizance. Here is my theory: Somebody at the Seattle INS office leaned on the arresting Border Patrol officers to disregard Malvo and his mother's "stowaway" status-allowing them to run free and allowing the INS to avoid the costs associated with detention and deportation. So, who let Lee Malvo loose? The Seattle INS office referred my call to the Washington, D.C. headquarters. The national headquarters referred calls to the Montgomery County sniper task force. Standard INS operating procedure: Pass the buck and run for cover.
"This makes me sick to my stomach," says Daryl Schermerhorn, vice president of the Northwest regional chapter of the National Border Patrol Council, which represents Border Patrol agents in Washington State. "The INS is not concerned with enforcing immigration law," he told me this week. "It's more concerned with freeing up jails and saving a few bucks than it is with protecting Americans and removing people who don't belong here."
As I document in my book, Invasion, these countless "catch and release" cases have demoralized rank-and-file INS agents and cost scores of American lives-from cops gunned down by fugitive deportees to victims of illegal border-crossing murderers, and now, quite possibly, to the innocents slaughtered in the Washington, D.C., area sniping spree. Eugene Davis, a retired deputy chief Border Patrol agent in Blaine, Wash., told me: "This is another classic example of how our catch and release policy for illegal aliens remains a danger to us all. What's it going to take for the American people to demand that we fix the system?"
JWR contributor Michelle Malkin is the author of, most recently, "Invasion: How America Still Welcomes Terrorists Criminals & Other Foreign Menaces to Our Shores".
SC Marriage Fraud RingAssociated Press - October 24, 2002
COLUMBIA, S.C. - A federal grand jury has indicted 107 men and women in part of a scheme that paid women to marry illegal aliens, prosecutors say.
Six people accused of conspiracy for organizing the marriages also were indicted Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Strom Thurmond Jr. said.
Forty-five women have pleaded guilty in the scheme, which paid the women, between $1,000 and $6,000 to marry strangers, mostly of Pakistani decent, so the illegal aliens could get a green card and stay in the country.
The ceremonies were simple. Prosecutors said the couples would meet at the courthouse, get married in front of a probate judge then leave in separate cars, never to see each other again.
NC Pilot Investigated for al-Qaida LinksAssociated Press – by Tim Whitmire - September 24, 2002
WINSTON-SALEM, North Carolina - A Sudanese pilot who officials say is being investigated for possible al-Qaida links was ordered held without bond Monday, but only after a magistrate questioned the strength of the government's immigration fraud case against him.
No terrorism links were mentioned at the hearing for Mekki Hamed Mekki Hamed Mekki, although a prosecutor said other charges might be brought and a defense attorney hinted at the same.
U.S. Magistrate Russell Eliason said the prosecution's case was not strong. "Does the government intend to pursue this case?" he asked.
"Yes, your honor, and there's the possibility that other charges will be brought," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Auld.
Defense lawyer Gregory Davis, one of Mekki's two public defenders, also hinted that prosecutors had reasons other than immigration violations to want to hold Mekki.
"It's almost like saying somebody's dead and there's no body," Davis said in court. "I think they've jumped the gun and held him ... when there was really some other motive for holding him."
Outside court, the defense said prosecutors have not mentioned any links to terrorism.
Two government officials who spoke on condition of anonymity last week said federal authorities believe the 30-year-old Mekki is linked to Osama bin Laden's terrorist group. They also said authorities were investigating the possibility that he may have been plotting to fly a plane into a U.S. target.
Acquaintances of Mekki's in Greensboro, where he has lived since 2000 and most recently drove a taxi, say Mekki is peace-loving and wanted nothing more than to stay in the United States.
FBI agents said in an affidavit filed in federal court that Mekki said he submitted several forms with variations of name, date of birth and place of birth to improve his chances in an immigration lottery.
He submitted the forms for this year's U.S. diversity immigrant program, which makes 50,000 permanent visas available to people from countries with low rates of immigration, the agents said.
But at the hearing, prosecutors said officials at the visa processing center said unsuccessful applications are not retained. FBI Special Agent Michael Knapp said there may be no way to prove that Mekki sent in false applications.
Eliason said he ordered Mekki held because there was a risk he would flee. When the case is over, Mekki will face deportation to Sudan. "He stated that he did not intend to return to the Sudan," Knapp said in describing an interview with Mekki on Sept. 13, the day Mekki was arrested.
In the courtroom, Mekki slumped in his chair, looking at his lap most of the time. About 45 supporters — mostly Sudanese men and many of them fellow cab drivers in Greensboro — watched the proceedings.
The affidavit does not say why federal authorities contacted Mekki, only that they first did so on Sept. 13 while he drove his cab. Mekki gave the agents a North Carolina driver's license and said he had additional forms of identification at his apartment, the affidavit said.
At his apartment, he retrieved his wallet and a bag that he said contained all his identification documents and documents relating to his application for asylum.
The agents said their review of Mekki's documents showed he had a U.S. visitor's visa that expired in October 2000. They said they also found 20 entry forms for the U.S. diversity immigrant visa program, the form that Mekki said he had submitted with several names, dates of birth and places of birth. Among those was the name of Makki Hamad Makki and birth dates and places of Dec. 14, 1972, and Khartoum, Sudan; April 20, 1972, and Omdurman, Sudan; and Jan. 1, 1972, and Bahary, Sudan.
Police Seize Huge Stash of Fake IDsSeattle Times – by Diane Brooks - September 15, 2002
(9/14/02) - LYNNWOOD — Piles of cash totaling $95,262 filled one end of the 20-foot table.
At the other end: $10,000 worth of computer equipment and specialty papers used to print more than 800 fake driver's licenses, green cards, work permits, Mexican birth certificates and Social Security cards over the past year.
The U.S. Department of Justice and the Lynnwood police yesterday showed off the results of two raids Wednesday at homes in Mountlake Terrace and Shoreline, where they seized what they called the largest stash of counterfeit immigration documents and related equipment in state history.
The documents had a street value of more than $240,000, they said.
"It's a whole package anyone would need to create a whole new identity very clearly," said Lynnwood Detective Sgt. Jim Nelson.
Police arrested two men, both Mexican nationals in their 30s, at the two homes. They have not positively identified the men, nor confirmed their residency status, because of the nature of the men's business enterprise.
"If they were illegal when they came here, it's very difficult to determine who they really are because they've created illegal IDs for themselves," said Garrison Courtney, public-affairs officer for the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Booked into King County Jail, the suspects could face federal counterfeiting charges and state forgery charges, he said.
An assortment of phony papers and cards were on display at the Lynnwood Police Department, including numerous IDs used by one of the men arrested. Although he had Washington state driver's licenses in three names, only one of them appeared to have been issued by the state.
That license, which featured a more genuine-looking holographic imprint, indicates his age is 35. Photos of the same man appeared on a variety of other forged documents, including green cards and work permits, printed with various aliases.
The counterfeiting operations primarily served illegal Hispanic immigrants, police said.
Investigators said they have not determined how long the illegal enterprise had operated nor how many customers it served. They hope the seized computer equipment will provide answers.
The raids culminated a 10-month investigation. Officers served federal and state search warrants at the Mountlake Terrace home at 6 a.m. Wednesday, finding some forged documents. The address of the house was not disclosed.
They served a second warrant at 6 p.m. at the Autumn Ridge Apartments, 15135 Stone Lane N. in Shoreline, seizing the forgery equipment, cash and more documents.
FBI, INS Bust Airport Fake ID SchemeWPLG - September 7, 2002
(9/6/02) - MIAMI -- FBI and INS agents are involved a massive sweep today, arresting people at three South Florida international airports who were allegedly using fake IDs to work.
Workers at Miami International, Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International and Palm Beach International airports were among those arrested.
Authorities say that some of those arrested used false documents to gain employment, failed to mention felony arrests, and in some cases may have purposely filled in wrong Social Security numbers.
The arrests come after a yearlong investigation and are part of a larger sweep looking into employees that have access to sensitive areas like airports and sea ports.
Some INS agents and Broward Sheriffs deputies also made rounds near Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport, checking local businesses in the area and asking about employees.
Roy Sukhou works for Worldwide Flight, a business very close to the airport. He said the investigator's work doesn't bother him.
"We here, all of us employees go through a real tough background check. It takes four to six to eight weeks," Sukhou said.
Suspects have been funneling into the FBI's north Miami-Dade County office throughout this morning. Agents say that there are more people to be arrested and their investigation is not complete.