Court Case Illustrates Both Chain Migration and Enforcement Problems

By David North on October 21, 2010

We all know the concept of chain migration. In some cases a bold migrant does something unusual. Unlike so many migrants, he or she settles, or is settled, in a place where there are no countrymen. He or she then starts a chain migration going through family and friends.

For instance, some refugee agency settled a Kurd in Nashville some years ago, and that unlikely city is now the informal Kurd capital of America.

Similarly, before World War II there were no Puerto Ricans in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

After World War II, according to a sociologist I know, there were a pair of Army chums being discharged; one was from that city and the other was from Puerto Rico. The New Yorker persuaded his friend that life was good in the small city on the Hudson, and the Puerto Rican settled there, got a job in a gas station, and soon started a small chain migration. Census data indicate that there are now 817 Puerto Ricans in that city, probably not including the probably now-deceased WW II vet.

A recent court case in Florida, involving massive fraud and massive illegal migration, apparently from Brazil, a not very likely source of such migrants, shows that the pattern of chain migration can and does work in the illegal environment as well.

Many of the details are, unfortunately, missing from both the ICE press release and the underlying set of indictments (for subscribers to PACER, the federal courts' electronic data system, see 6:10-mj-01184-KRS). We can, however, using those sources, put together the following narrative.

The pioneer in this case, who carried an appropriate name for a labor exploiter (Ms. Barbugli), managed to get to Florida, probably as an H-2A worker. In that role she, again apparently, secured the admission of her husband, Wilson Barbugli, as an H-4 dependent of an H-2A worker. According to the indictment she subsequently obtained a green card fraudulently, but we are not told how this was done.

Wilson Barbugli is currently an H-4 and a candidate for a green card as spouse to Ms. Barbugli, but since hers was obtained fraudulently, he won't get permanent resident status. Later their son Eduardo, arrived in some manner, and is now about to be deported.

But the three of them are only the tip of the iceberg in this instance of chain migration.

The family set up a number of shell companies, typically involved in cleaning hotel rooms, and secured many batches of H-2B visas which "allowed more than 1,000 illegal aliens to fraudulently enter and remain in the U.S.," according to the press release. Many of the illegals did not, in fact, get hired by the designated companies, and in several cases, the hotels that apparently applied for the workers, did not do so; the pertinent documents were signed by a former manager of the hotels in question.

Neither the indictments nor the press release discussed where those 1,000 workers are now, or what, if anything, is being done to round them up.

The whole business was said to be so successful that the prosecutor came up with a $55 million figure, "which represents the illegal proceeds generated during the course of the conspiracy."

That box car number raises questions in my mind. Did the 1,000 workers earn $55,000 each, on average? Maybe, but that strikes me as unlikely.

Elsewhere in the press release it says that the workers paid "$250 to $750 each to be placed on the fraudulent H-2B petitions." That strikes me as a remarkable bargain compared to the multi-thousand fees charged by coyotes at the Mexican border.

Further, it would take a whole lot of $250 or $750 fees to add to $55 million.

The family is supposed to pay back the $55 million, though in the case of Eduardo Barbugli, the electronic file indicates that a federally funded defense lawyer was appointed.

Though I am pleased that the government broke up this scheme, two additional questions linger with me.

On a policy level, why should a temporary worker (in this case an unskilled, low-income H-2B alien) be allowed to bring in a dependent spouse? Typically H-2Bs are supposed to be short-term temporary workers, and I know of no arrangements (unlike for H-1Bs) where they can stay for as long as six years. Further, given the typically low wages paid to H-2Bs, how can they support a non-working family member, which H-4s are supposed to be? This is a matter for Congress.

On a procedural level, why don't the Departments of Labor and Homeland Security, both of which are involved in the process, routinely demand that the signatories on H-2A (and similar) documents be run against the E-Verify files, to make sure that the signatories are legally present in the country? The indictments indicate that both the male Barbuglis signed some of the visa-producing documents, and it appears that neither ever obtained legal presence.

This is an immigration-enforcement action that the government is happy about – or it would not have produced the press release.

So, it is distressing to find so many awkward policy, procedural, and reporting questions buried within the details of the case.