Intricacies of Immigration Enforcement and Its Lingo Exposed

By David North on September 23, 2010

Would you pay $37,000 to obtain a "letter of refusal"?

Probably not, but if you were in the topsy-turvy world of immigration enforcement and immigration linguistics you might be tempted to do so.

Several illegal aliens living in California bought such letters from diplomats employed by Armenia, according to an ICE press release about the arrest of five people involved in the scheme.

Just as voluntary departure, which sounds rather pleasant, means just the opposite – you must leave the U.S. – the "letter of refusal," which sounds pretty negative, is actually good news.

The language of immigration enforcement is often at odds with itself, as in the term "employer sanctions," which means that an employer can be punished for hiring illegal aliens, "sanctions" having two meanings, both the approval of something and its prohibition.

In the case broken by ICE agents there were several illegal aliens from Armenia who had been rounded up by the U.S. government and were facing deportation. Routinely nations accept the deportation to their own countries of their own citizens; they do so because when tables are turned, they want to be able to deport misbehaving non-citizens back to where they came from. It is called reciprocity.

In the case of these lawbreaking Armenians, however, they took advantage of a provision in the immigration law that says that you cannot deport someone in the unusual circumstance when that person's home country will not accept him. If the would-be deportee can secure such a decision, it is documented in a "letter of refusal."

If you have such a letter, you cannot be deported.

The ICE report says that Hakop Hovanesyan, 54, a former employee of the Armenian consulate in Los Angeles, "pleaded guilty ... to one count of obstructing federal proceedings related to his role in a scheme to sell an illegal alien ... a 'letter of refusal'."

Four others involved in the plot are awaiting trial. One of them is a former Armenian consul in LA, who evidently left the Armenian diplomatic service to migrate to Burbank, Calif.

The ICE press release speaks of several sales of such letters, but does not provide more details, nor the name of the person who paid $37,000 for such a letter.