Indictment Writers: Please Give Us Migration Data on Foreign-Born Defendants

By David North on July 25, 2022

My eye was struck by two six-column headlines in the July 22 print edition of the New York Times business section, right on top of each other:

“Trial Begins for Ex-Twitter Employee Accused of Spying for Saudis”


“Ex-Coinbase Employee and 2 Others Charged With Insider Trading of Crypto Assets”

Both are high-tech companies and both use large numbers of H-1B workers. I wondered if any H-1B workers were among the six people attracting negative attention. Journalists often skip over such identifications as a matter of (misdirected) routine, as they did in both of these stories, but would the underlying indictments be more helpful?

The Twitter story was about a federal trial on espionage charges, with allegations that three people with Saudi Arabian connections had leaked critical information from Twitter files to the Saudi government.

The Coinbase article dealt with charges that three men with Indian names had illegally used insider information to profit from trading in Coinbase assets. In the latter case, both the local federal attorney and the Securities and Exchange Commission filed indictments; in the former, only the U.S. attorney.

My sense is that if a foreign-born person is hauled into court, particularly by the feds, everyone should be told their immigration status so that our leaders will have the data before them as they work though policies about migrants. Indictment writers, often federal agents, seem to have some control over what they write, and they can include such data should they, and their bosses, choose to do so.

The indictment writers in these cases followed differing patterns.

Perhaps the least useful was the indictment in the Southern District of New York in the Coinbase case. There were no indications of the citizenship — much less any other migration information — about Ishan Wahi, his brother, Nikhil, or Nikhil’s friend Sameer Ramani. Ishan’s migration status is of some interest, because, according to the Times story he was picked up at a U.S. airport, with a one-way ticket to India, on the day before he was to have a crucial interview with his superiors at Coinbase. In the PACER files this is case 1:22-cr-00932-LAP.

The most useful of these documents was the SEC indictment on the same set of issues. It tells us, on page 6: “Ishan Wahi, 32, is a citizen of India, residing in Seattle on a work visa” (presumably either on an H-1B document or one for OPT workers), “Nikhil, 26, is a citizen of India, residing in Seattle”, and “Sameer Ramani, 33, is a resident of Houston and a citizen of the U.S. Ramani is believed to currently be in India.” In this instance, we have some data, but an uneven amount; we know that one brother came on a work visa, but can only suspect it for the other brother.

Somewhere in between in terms of transparency, in the Twitter case, we know that Ahmad Abouammo and Ali Alzabarah, both came to the U.S. as foreign students, and that the third indictee, Ahmed Almutairi, is a Saudi citizen. The PACER number in this instance is 3:19-mj-71824-MRGD.

The variations in levels of migration data suggest that there is no — not yet, at least — dictate that this kind of information cannot be included in the indictments.

The mainstream press never mentions that some foreign workers (recent college grads in the Optional Practical Training program) are subsidized by the U.S. government, as may have been the case with one or more of these six aliens in trouble. It would be useful if some reporter could grasp that angle. It would help if that basic fact showed up in the federal indictments — that should not be too much to ask.