If you were a bank manager and the same masked bandit held up your cashiers, in exactly the same way, in the same place, on hundreds of occasions, you (and the police) would probably do something about it.
The Anaheim (Calif.) USCIS asylum office was not quite as alert or careful, according to court documents that I recently saw.
They show that the office had been granting asylum to many hundreds of Chinese asylum applicants based on mass-produced and totally false applications over a period of more than 10 years.
I noticed this extremely slow reaction to massive fraud only because I looked behind a bland ICE press release (dated May 7) and started reading the 69-page complaint filed with the court back in 2011; for users of PACER, the courts' electronic records system, it is document 1 in case 2:11-cr-00973-CJC.
The press release simply noted that two criminals had been jailed for "Filing Bogus Asylum Applications".
More precisely, according to the criminal complaint filed in federal court, they show that:
From November 2000 to February 2010, on 440 asylum petitions and immigration benefit petitions, petitioners listed [the same California address] as their place of residence.
When I first read those words I immediately assumed that there was a typing error, and the number should have been 40, not 440. Then I read the next sentence, on page 37 of the complaint:
From February 2000 to November 2010 on approximately 290 asylum petition and immigration benefit petitions listed [another specific California address] as their place of residence.
And the next one:
From December 2000 to July 2010, on 85 asylum petitions and immigration benefit petitions, petitioners listed [yet another specific California address] as their place of residence.
Three thoughts come to mind immediately:
- It has long been well known in certain kinds of income tax and immigration fraud that the criminals will use addresses that they control, rather than their clients' home addresses, so that the criminals can receive the mail from the government to better manage their crimes. One would expect government agencies to look out for that sort of thing, particularly when computers can search for such patterns.
- It is surprising, given the above, that the bad guys had only three mail drops.
- It is appalling that USCIS is so lax that this pattern of 815 mailings to three addresses was allowed to continue for nearly a decade. Was everyone sound asleep?
In addition to the repetition of the addresses, there was another strong set of clues: the same verbiage, in broken English, kept popping up in these documents that were being filed from the same addresses.
The complaint lists five cases in which, after describing abuses by Chinese authorities, the asylum applicant wrote this, or a close variation:
There are no hopeless so I decided to escape China.
Other odd patterns kept showing up as well, according to the complaint, including multiple statements: "I couldn't stand their tortured" and "I refuse to sign the acceptable paper" and "I was hopeless in Chine."
The complaint noted that the two conspirators, Haoren Ma and Minghan Dong, routinely used template applications, and routinely coached their clients — virtually all Buddhists — to say that they had been badly treated in China because of their Christian religion. The clients were also given instruction about Christianity prior to their interviews with the asylum office.
Despite all these obvious signs of fraud, the two immigration consultants continued their fraudulent work for more than a decade, charging about $5,000 for each case. Ma and Dong also routinely forged their clients' names and created the false home addresses for them.
And they got away with it, year after year.
The two pled guilty to their crimes and were sentenced in late April to four and a half years in jail for Ma, and one year and one day for Dong.
Looking at the whole situation generally, perhaps some grades for performance in this case are in order.
"A+" goes to the totally unsung Jared Harada, the ICE special agent who signed the complaint and who probably was the principal investigator. The long complaint is much more interesting than most such documents, and is richly detailed and totally convincing.
"D" goes to the ICE press person who worked on this case; he or she might have said to management: "Lets leave this alone, it will cause people to look up the record and see how badly our sister agency handled this for a very long time"; that would have been wrong, but understandable.
Alternatively, the release could have laid out the unpleasant truth, as we have shown here. The release did not and tried to convey the idea that this was solely a triumph for justice, when that, as noted below, was only part of the story.
"F-" goes to USCIS for failing, over a period of 10 years, to notice this massive fraud, all aimed at a single asylum office. (Speaking of failings, when I first wrote about this case, at the time the indictments were filed, I was so impressed by the government's willingness to pierce the alleged religious argument — "China beat me up because I am a Christian" — that I overlooked the extensive, year-after-year, negligence on the part of USCIS.)
"Incomplete" goes to the government as a whole because there is no indication in the court files or press release as to what happened to the hundreds of Chinese nationals who secured legal status through these frauds. Were they identified, stripped of their legal status, and deported? Probably not, among other reasons because China refuses to take many people who should be deported to it, and because our State Department has done nothing to force China to act responsibly in this connection, as my colleague Jon Feere pointed out recently.
And finally, a special mark:
"P", for priggishness, goes to the editors of Immigration Daily. They reproduced (dare I use that word) the ICE press release word-for-word except for the last name of the lesser conspirator, who is listed as "Minghan ****", instead of Minghan Dong, as in both the original ICE release and in the complaint.