The head of a Mexican forgery ring was convinced he could make phony documents that illegal aliens could use to indicate fraudulently that they were eligible for a new amnesty, says a government affidavit recounting wiretapped phone calls the man made.
Julio Leija-Sanchez, who ran a $3 million-a-year forgery operation before he was arrested in April, was expecting Congress to pass a legalization program, which he called "amnesty," and said he could forge documents to fool the U.S. government into thinking illegal aliens were in the country in time to qualify for amnesty, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent said in the affidavit.
In recounting a wiretapped telephone conversation, ICE agent Jason E. Medica said he heard Mr. Leija-Sanchez tell an associate the forgery ring could "fix his papers" to meet the requirements of a legalization program such as the bill the Senate is debating this week.
"When Leija-Sanchez said 'if there's an amnesty, he can fix his papers,' Leija-Sanchez was referring to the possibility of pending legislation which would allow a certain class of illegal aliens to remain in the United States, as long as they can prove a term of residency in the United States with no convictions," Mr. Medica wrote.
"When Leija-Sanchez said 'he can fix his papers,' he was referring to the fact that the organization could fraudulently create or alter documents to falsely prove the requisite residency period," the agent wrote.
Mr. Leija-Sanchez also used his forgery ring to help smuggle illegal aliens into the country on the understanding they would work for his criminal enterprise. He was arrested on charges of forgery and conspiracy to commit murder.
The Senate immigration bill was resurrected Tuesday and is headed for a final vote later this week. It includes a path to citizenship for the 12 million to 20 million estimated illegal aliens as long as they can show they arrived in the country by the beginning of this year.
Its backers say it cracks down on fraud by requiring new legal workers to have a tamper-proof ID, but opponents say it would invite a new wave of illegal aliens with fraudulent documents trying to prove they are eligible for legal status. They point to the 1986 amnesty in which about a quarter of approved applications were later deemed fraudulent.
"It's clear that the most capable fraud document cartel in Mexico has been gearing up for comprehensive immigration reform at the same time we have been here on Capitol Hill — only they're ahead of the game," said Michael Maxwell, senior policy analyst for homeland security for Rep. John Culberson, Texas Republican. "They're already making money and will continue to do so if this bill passes."
In the affidavit, Mr. Medica said that although the forgery ring was mostly Mexican, its customers were "American, Polish, Indian, Algerian, Arab, Mexican, Nigerian, Canadian, Haitian, Pakistani and Asian." The agent said the organization never refused to sell documents to anyone who had money.
The 113-page affidavit describes a document-fraud investigation by ICE that began in October 2003 in Chicago and targeted a Mexico-based gang that produced false documents in cities nationwide, including Denver, Los Angeles and Chicago.
ICE officials said the gang generated millions of dollars in illicit profits each year by recruiting illegal aliens to sell false documents on street corners in the city. They said as many as 20 illegal aliens sold false documents at any one time in just one location.
Mr. Leija-Sanchez, 31, was identified in court papers as the leader of the organization's Chicago operation. He was among 22 persons arrested in April as part of what federal authorities said was a bustling counterfeit identification document business.
He also was accused of paying $3,000 and conspiring with others to kill two fledgling competitors for stealing computers used to make the phony documents.
The conversations involving potential documents to obtain amnesty were among numerous calls that ICE agents intercepted using court-authorized wiretaps since February, during the final months of the investigation code-named Operation Paper Tiger.
Based on undercover purchases and information from cooperating sources, ICE officials said the organization sold 50 to 100 sets of fraudulent identification documents daily, charging about $200 to $300 per set. A set consisted of a Social Security card and either an immigration green card or a state driver's license.
Under the Senate bill, documents illegal aliens can use to prove they have been in the country long enough include bank records, records from a day-labor center and sworn affidavits from known relatives.
Mr. Leija-Sanchez said he could produce any document for which he had a model to copy. At one point, a customer asked for a driver's license from Seattle, but the forger said he didn't have a model. He offered an Ohio license instead.
He said he could make birth certificates, green cards, work visas and driver's licenses from 20 states.