Amnesty Fraud

The nation's first amnesty for illegal aliens (also called legalization by those who pushed it, as now, to avoid the semantic baggage of the word "amnesty") was contained in the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. It was called IRCA for short. Trying to make a complex piece of legislation simple is difficult, but for our purposes here let's explain it in the next paragraph. It's accurate, if not comprehensive.

A person who could prove that he had been in the United States for a specified period of time before the IRCA could qualify for temporary residence. After spending a few years as a temporary resident he was granted permanent residence.

In addition to the basic amnesty, there were two provisions granting amnesty to farmworkers (called Special Agricultural Workers, or SAWS) who had worked in agriculture for periods either longer or shorter, the length of time in farm work controlling how soon the applicant could be granted permanent residence after he had obtained temporary residence.

The market in fraudulent documents developed quickly to satisfy the need for proof of length of residence in the U.S. (such as rent receipts, utility bills, etc) or places and periods of farm work (pay stubs or even a letter from the farmer). What was called SAW II required only ninety days work in agriculture in the previous few years to qualify. Those documentary proofs had to be filed along with the alien's application for amnesty; without them, the application would be denied for lack of proof.

It is not an overstatement to say that the 1986 amnesty was fraud-ridden. Legalization Officers knew it. Enforcement personnel knew it. Farmers knew it. Most of all, the alien beneficiaries knew it. But because powerful Senators and powerful Congressmen and even the President and the U.S. Attorney General* (INS' boss) were in favor of it, INS made sure it happened, and never mind the fraud. The name of the game, from the top down, was "approvals." INS did not keep broad-spectrum, reliable statistics on fraud, but some field personnel did (See sidebar.).

Individual fraud in the application process was never taken seriously on an institutional basis. If an application was demonstrably fraudulent on its face it might be denied and that would be the end of it; the applicant remained in the U.S. illegally, free to try again with better documents. Individual cases were not referred for deportation or prosecution because the material filed in support of the application was confidential. Those who wrote the regulations that administered the program understood quite correctly that pursuing individual fraud cases to prosecution or deportation would have a chilling effect on the whole program - people might actually hesitate to apply, and that simply was not an option.

Only the most egregious, undeniable, large-scale cases of fraud were ever investigated, where those committing the fraud were in it for the money, and only a few of those. (You can read here about one of them.) Some of the cases investigated involved literally hundreds of beneficiaries and hundreds of thousands of dollars of income to the criminal. Other cases of large scope were known but were never investigated. And even had the bureaucratic inclination been there to pursue fraud investigations, the means were not. Fraud investigations are expensive, lengthy, and manpower-intensive. INS did not have, had never had, the resources to investigate the fraud that was taking place. And nobody seemed to care, least of all Congress.

The processes of fraud cut sharply across socioeconomic lines. It was done for economic reasons, to make a buck, and it was done out of misplaced sympathy for the illegal aliens by people who would not otherwise have dreamed of deliberately committing a felony, and it was done by others out of ethnic sympathy for those of la raza. Wealthy ranchers were doing it, and attorneys, and residents of the barrio. Church members (and some clergy, it was suspected) were issuing fraudulent letters to support applications for amnesty. Officials and members of ethnic groups did it. And even some INS personnel and officers were guilty of participating. Overall, there was criminal activity by the public on a scale not seen since Prohibition.

The current proposals for amnesty are so close to those of the 1986 Act that they are siblings, not mere cousins; they differ only in a few inconsequential details. Because of that, and because nothing else has changed that will bring a different attitude to the view of fraud, we will see it all again if there is another amnesty- but this time on a scale four times larger.


The following statements are from Bill King, who was the Western Regional Director of the Legalization program. King is a retired Border Patrol Chief Patrol Agent. He was brought back from retirement to run the program in that region. While these items are directly attributable to King, they reflect the common knowledge of everyone involved in the Legalization program, regardless of location.

"We had 36 field offices, plus the processing facility, and fraud was totally out of control in the Ag program, particularly in California. We had 700,000 applications for that program and it was so bad counterfeiters were getting rich, some of whom were selling documents, I.e. rent receipts, pay stubs, affidavits, etc. all over L.A., and some others were operating almost within sight of many of the field offices. In this region IRCA investigations were given rather short shrift."

and

"We also had the National President of LULAC who was based in Las Vegas furnishing fraud documents to illegals - he got something like 7.5 years to serve. Fraud, especially in the SAW program, was rampant and we had no real means of stopping it."

he also provides the following information

Statistics kept by Joe Thomas, the Director of the Legalization Processing Center (subordinate to King), indicate that 27% of the applications filed for basic amnesty were fraudulent, and 77% (yes, seventy-seven percent) of the SAW applications were fraudulent.

* Ronald Reagan's Attorney-General, Edwin Meese, was a supporter of the 1986 Amnesty at the time. He said years later that it was the biggest mistake he ever made while in office.