The Immigration System at Work: A Good (i.e., Terrible) Case History

By David North on May 8, 2013

While doing some research on the massive misuse of affidavits in the agricultural worker part of the IRCA amnesty – scores, perhaps hundreds of thousands of fraudulent applicants got legalized this way – I stumbled on this example of our immigration system at work.

Below is the cover page of the decision on this case made by the Office of Administrative Appeals (AAO), a unit within USCIS, which, in turn, if you believe the document, is within the "U.SiDepartmen! ef Homeland Seeuriry".

The clerical errors in this case, however, are just the tip of the iceberg, because, as you get deeper into this case from the last amnesty program, one finds numerous problems – some deeply significant, others less so.

To back up a bit, an illegal alien (whose name was deleted by AAO, as is its wont) tried to obtain legalization under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) even though she was not eligible. The alien apparently did so by buying an affidavit from an apparently small agricultural operation in New Jersey saying that the alien had worked on the farm for more than 90 days, and thus was eligible for a green card. Unfortunately for the illegal in this case, according to a 1998 New York Times story the farmer, Royal Crest Meats, had sold 1,400 of these phony affidavits and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was alert enough (at that time) to notice such massive flows of documents from a single source.

(I had, incidentally, worked in Trenton some 20 years earlier, in a job partially related to farm labor, and even then there were few big farms with Trenton mailing addresses, certainly none with 1,400 workers.)

So the farm was raided by INS agents, the alien's application was denied at the staff level, and AAO subsequently did the right thing, and confirmed the denial.

What can be learned from this case? Several things.

In the first place it is a bad idea to rest something as significant as legal presence on an affidavit alone, certainly not an affidavit that was not checked thoroughly at the time. In this case, I suspect that the alien lost out because she bought the phony document from the wrong vendor – someone in an urban area claiming 1,400 alien farm workers. Had the alien chosen her fraud partner more carefully she probably would have gotten away with it.

Second, and equally broadly, it is a terrible public policy to give illegal alien farm workers a special, much easier, path to legal status, as was the case with the Special Agricultural Workers (SAW) in the IRCA program and would be the case again were S.744 to be passed in its current form. Fraud blooms where application requirements are easier, as was the case with the SAWs.

Third, as the AAO decision of October 31, 2006, indicates, amnesties are forever. A federal court decision re-opened the SAW's decision-making process, and previously rejected SAW applications were revived and a lingering few of them are still producing green cards as shown in the most recent Yearbook of Immigration Statistics.

Fourth, even under the then-solid leadership of the late Alan Nelson, the Reagan administration's commissioner of the INS, there were limitations on enforcement resources and a sometimes casual attitude of enforcement agents, as the fourth paragraph in the Times article below shows:

The largest of the operations was said to have been at Royal Crest Meats, where Federal agents reportedly seized evidence that affidavits had been supplied to 1,400 illegal aliens.

Several thousand other applications said to have been filled out on behalf of aliens were also found on the site, along with a .25-caliber pistol, which Mr. Greenfield called "a Saturday night special."

During that raid, Mr. Greenfield said, dozens of illegal aliens arrived at the site, attempting to buy documents.

"We took in $10,000 and made a few arrests," he said. "Then we became so inundated with people that one of our agents got sick of it all, flashed his badge at a carload of obvious illegals and told them to get lost."

Agents also allegedly seized 364 affidavits on Mrs. Gervasoni's five-acre farm.

"That's a lot of people to work five acres," Mr. Greenfield said.

Greenfield was the INS official who was the source of the story and Mrs. Gervasoni a farm operator who was also charged with selling fraudulent affidavits.

The last, and least of, these lessons relate to the ongoing foolishness of AAO regarding privacy in the reporting of its decisions. It routinely blocks out the names of the aliens in its decisions, the names of the aliens' lawyers, and does not disclose the name of the decision-maker, unlike the disclosure standards of federal courts.

This policy is sometimes modified by the ineptitude of the clerical staff, whose skills are illustrated not only on the cover page shown above but also by their failure to eliminate the name of Royal Crest Meats in the text, as AAO policy demands. These practices have been described in previous blogs, such as this one.

The full text of the AAO decision in the Royal Crest case, or what is left of it after the redactions, can be seen here.