- The Washington Times - Friday, May 27, 2016

Syrians and Palestinians managed to buy illegal citizenship documents from Honduras then tried to use them to enter the U.S., a Honduran newspaper reported over the weekend, exposing a scheme that analysts say could post a danger to the U.S. visa system.

La Prensa uncovered a criminal network that paid Honduran officials to illegally register foreigners as legal residents, which gave them access to documents that could then be used to gain broader access to the western hemisphere.

The La Prensa report was highlighted Friday by the Center for Immigration Studies, which said the network appeared to be a favorite for those of Arab origin — particularly Syrians and Palestinians — who were looking for a way to enter the U.S.

The criminal network managed to get names registered in Honduras’s national registration of persons (RNP). That meant they could obtain passports and official birth certificates, on RNP paper and stamped by the agency director, that they could then take to the U.S. embassy to try to earn a visitor’s visa, the report said.

In one case highlighted by La Prensa, a man managed to get registered them used his false papers to register at least eight other members of his family, including children and grandchildren. All told, the newspaper said at least 100 Palestinians and Syrians who obtained fraudulent documents have been detected, but it’s unclear how many cases are still out there.

The U.S. embassy detected at least some of the attempts to obtain visas based on the fraudulent documents, and rejected the applications, La Prensa report said.

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Ten employees were fired, but were not charged, the report said.

The Honduran embassy in Washington did not return a message seeking comment Friday.

An official at the U.S. State Department declined to comment on the specifics of the cases involved, but said those doing the screening do a counterterrorism check on every visa applicant, including fingerprints or facial recognition software.

The State Department official didn’t say how the checks would work in cases where someone improperly obtained valid documents.

Center for Immigration Studies research associated Kausha Luna said the report should “raise various security concerns for the United States,” including checking to see how many people may have already slipped through on U.S. visas.

“A document breach, such as the one in the Honduran RNP, presents yet another obstacle to the United States’ ability to properly vet individuals,” she wrote.

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• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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