Federal authorities have charged 20 people with trying to claim immigration benefits by posing as Cuban nationals.
The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced the charges on Wednesday.
READ: Names of 20 arrested |
The indictments were made as part of Operation Havana Gateway. The law enforcement probe seeks to crack down on what authorities describe as a rising trend of immigrant fraud based on false claims to Cuban birth and citizenship.
"Individuals that are claiming false citizenship to Cuba and therefore are claiming benefits that would only be entitled to Cuban natives or citizens which, essentially, is a fast track to naturalization," said Alysa Erichs, special agent in charge of HSI Miami. "We are seeing trends of people -- mainly from Central and South America, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Argentina, Ecuador, even Mexico -- individuals purchasing these. The lowest rate we have seen is a thousand. The highest rate could be up to 20,000 but typically between 5,000 and 15,000 per document."
Nearly all Cubans who reach U.S. shores are allowed to stay under the "wet foot, dry foot" policy.
Investigators say people have paid thousands of dollars for fictitious Cuban birth certificates and then used those documents to fraudulently apply for immigration benefits.
“These individuals came here seeking the freedom and benefits this country provides to Cuban nationals. The operation identified and addressed vulnerabilities in the application process,” said Erichs. “These arrests by HSI should send a clear message that we will target anyone who tries to obtain immigration benefits fraudulently.”
“USCIS is committed to ensuring the integrity of our nation’s immigration system by ensuring that only fully qualified individuals receive benefits,” said Linda Swacina, District Director for Miami and the Caribbean. “We evaluate cases individually based on the law and the facts and will refer to USCIS’ Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate (FDNS) or other appropriate authorities any case suspected of fraud or unlawful conduct.”
“This integrated effort is an example of the successful partnership between federal agencies to detect and interrupt organizations that through fraudulent activity exploit the process to obtain immigration benefits,” said Vernon Foret, Director Field Operations Miami, Customs Border Protection.
“These charges send a strong message: Diplomatic Security and our law enforcement partners are committed to making sure those who commit document fraud face consequences for their criminal actions,” said Wendy Bashnan, Special Agent in Charge, Miami Field Office, DSS. “Diplomatic Security’s strong relationship with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and other law enforcement agencies continues to be essential in the pursuit of justice.”