Amnesties Are Forever: A New Jersey Case History

By David North on July 9, 2012

It seems like one of those bad, recurring dreams, but it is reality.

The scene shifts from a gritty town next to Newark, N.J., to India, and back again.

The criminal is Naranjan Patel.

His partner in crime is lawyer Jonathan Saint-Preux, of Irvington, N.J., who attended a George W. Bush White House Christmas party in 2006, two months after both were indicted, according to Bloomberg News.

The prosecutor is named Christie.

In the distant background looms a successful class-action suit brought by an arm of the Catholic Church.

The crime is a conspiracy to defraud the legalization program created by Congress that requires illegal aliens to have been in the United States 30 years earlier, in 1982, to qualify for legal status.

You might think that in 2012, we would not still be dealing with a program terminated so many years ago, but an ICE press release tells a story about Patel that will not end until some time in 2015, if then.

Here's what happened:

One of the long-lingering court cases growing out of the IRCA legalization (passed into law in 1986) dealt with the question of whether an illegal alien who was otherwise eligible for amnesty and who had been out of the country for a brief period during the qualifying years (1982-1987) was thus ineligible. Catholic Social Services (CSS) brought a class-action suit against the government on behalf of illegal aliens who had been disqualified by that provision.

An all-too generous federal government settled in 2004 with CSS and the terms included reopening applications to the amnesty for persons who claimed that they had either lost out earlier because of such departures from the country or who had not filed because they thought that such absences would disqualify them. Brief absences were ruled to be non-disqualifying in the settlement.

Patel, according to the indictment, presumably working within the Indian community of North New Jersey, recruited aliens to file for this benefit, including many who were not eligible.

He and the lawyer and the lawyer's wife conspired to file applications for such persons, and to help them get ready for their interviews. The indictment indicates that there were hundreds of such cases, and that each brought thousands of dollars to the conspirators.

The three of them were indicted in October 2006 by the U.S. Attorney's Office, then led by Christopher Christie (now the Republican governor of New Jersey). Users of PACER, the federal courts' electronic filing system, can see that document at 2:06-cr-00813-KSH, number 1.

The lawyer and his wife pled guilty; he was sentenced to 57 months in prison, and she to five years of probation. He, who had other, prior brushes with legal ethics problems, was subsequently disbarred. Patel was convicted following a jury trial, and sentenced to 37 months in jail.

Between sentencing and the date for his reporting to prison, Patel was out on bail and in mid-November 2007 he absconded to India.

All of this was called to public's attention on July 5 of this year when ICE issued the previously cited press release saying that Patel had been extradited from India to the United States to serve the sentence. Presumably he will be deported back to India following its completion.

Some questions remain: Why didn't the Bush White House ask the Justice Department to check the holiday party list against PACER and other listings of people in trouble? Why did Saint-Preux risk embarrassing the president he supported by going to the party? Why did the judge leave Patel out on bail between sentencing and the reporting date?

And why does it take nearly five years to extradite someone from India?

There is no question, however, regarding the duration of amnesties and their complications; they will continue, in this case, to be with us at least until Patel is sprung from jail, and, one hopes, deported, a little over three years from now in 2015, almost 30 years after the passage of IRCA.

Amnesties are too often portrayed by their supporters as quick, one-off programs. History shows that the larger amnesties always linger for a long time before all their consequences are revealed.