Thursday, April 28, 2005

Federal authorities yesterday said it’s too early to know whether hundreds of illegal aliens brought into the country in an Indonesian immigration fraud ring will be deported or arrested.

“I can’t tell you if they are going to be or aren’t going to be [arrested],” said Ernestine Fobbs, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. “It is an ongoing investigation. They’re looking into each one of these cases.”

Known as Operation Jakarta, a nearly two-year investigation into the illegal practices of Indonesian immigration brokers and consultants operating in Northern Virginia and Maryland resulted in the indictments of 26 ringleaders. One of the ringleaders reportedly admitted that he was starting an international sex-trafficking business before he was arrested last fall.

The illegal aliens were coached to tell asylum officers or immigration judges false stories of beatings or rapes they endured in Indonesia at the hands of Muslims because they were either ethnic Chinese or Christians, authorities said.

Earlier this week, Hans Gouw, the leader of the Fairfax-based immigration fraud ring, pleaded guilty to falsifying documents for more than 1,900 Indonesians who are in the United States illegally.

Gouw, 54, also admitted that he was planning to bring about 40 women from Indonesia, three of them younger than 18, into the United States as strippers and prostitutes. He was arrested before he could bring in any of the women.

The more than 1,900 illegal aliens who filed bogus asylum requests through Gouw traveled from 27 states, including California, Pennsylvania and Georgia, to meet Gouw in Northern Virginia to get the documents, authorities said.

Gouw used his Chinese Indonesian American Society, which advertised in newspapers catering to the Indonesian community, as a cover for the operation.

Gouw and his co-conspirators “used publications that reached the Indonesian community all over the country, so wherever you were, you could reach these guys. They had a branch out in California,” said U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty, whose office is prosecuting the cases.

Gouw and his associates filled out government forms using false information to help illegal aliens obtain asylum, Virginia driver’s licenses and labor certification.

Gouw, an Indonesian immigrant who was granted asylum in 1999, reportedly made more than $1 million off his scam. The aliens paid $2,000 or more, authorities said.

More than 150 law-enforcement officers from more than 10 agencies conducted a Nov. 22 sting during which authorities arrested Gouw and 25 others.

Gouw faces up to 20 years in prison, but will get less because of a plea agreement he reached with federal prosecutors.

Mr. McNulty said gaining asylum is “a long-term clearance to stay in the United States. It sets up the permanent resident status … which of course is a precursor to citizenship.”

“This is a huge problem in the country as a whole, but certainly in the Northern Virginia community we have uncovered a lot of immigration and document fraud,” Mr. McNulty said.

He said law enforcement has focused on immigration fraud for the past four years, but that Operation Jakarta “is our first big case in the asylum fraud area.”

Federal authorities still face challenges of immigration enforcement.

Earlier this month, ICE officials released 11 illegal aliens after a Fairfax County police officer found them riding in a van during a traffic stop in Annandale. In that case, ICE officials had ordered the aliens to show up for immigration proceedings four days later.

None of the aliens showed up and will be considered as fugitives once federal officials input the aliens’ personal information into the National Crime Information Center.

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