- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 23, 2007

HARLINGEN, Texas (AP) — The attorney general of Texas has added the state to complaints that an Indian tribe sold memberships to illegal aliens in a fraudulent scheme that promised protection from U.S. immigration laws.

In a lawsuit filed Monday against the federally unrecognized Kaweah Indian Nation Inc. of Wichita, Kan., Attorney General Greg Abbott‘s office accused the group of taking as much as $400 each from an unknown number of aliens for the guarantee of a Social Security number and a “Certificate of Citizenship” card that supposedly would bring protection from deportation proceedings.

The tribe told buyers the card also would be good for U.S. citizenship if the Kaweah nation gained federal recognition, Mr. Abbott said. The lawsuit seeks to stop what he purports to be misleading recruitment and calls for a fine of up to $20,000 for each violation of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act.

“In reality, the card is legally ineffective and does not alter the purchaser’s immigration status,” Mr. Abbott said.

His lawsuit follows reports that the tribe has complaints against it from at least five states and is being investigated by a U.S. attorney in Kansas.

Last week, the tribe’s secretary, a woman from El Salvador, and her Guatemalan husband were charged in Wichita with federal immigration violations in what prosecutors called a multistate immigration scam.

Immigration authorities have said becoming a member of a tribe gives no protection against deportation. A lawyer for the Washington-based National Congress of American Indians has called the Kaweahs “a total sham.”

The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs denied the Kaweah group recognition in 1985, saying it was not a real tribe. A Kaweah tribe did exist once but is unrelated to the one that applied for recognition.

The Kaweah Indian Nation said it was unaware of the lawsuit until contacted by the Associated Press at the tribe’s Wichita headquarters. Jennifer Middlebrook, daughter of tribe leader Malcolm “Grand Chief Thunderbird IV” Webber, said her father does not take calls from the press.

“I know a lot of it is a misunderstanding because we are not doing anything wrong,” Miss Middlebrook said. “Everything we are doing here is legal and to benefit everybody in the tribe.”

She referred further comment to Manuel Urbina, the tribe’s spokesman and high chief. He did not return a phone message.

Tom Kelley, a spokesman for Mr. Abbott, said it was not clear how many violations there were in Texas or how many people had joined the tribe.

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