Two Men Charged with Visa Fraud after Staging Armed Robberies
FAIR Take | January 2024
In December, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts filed charges against two men for conspiracy to commit visa fraud after they were arrested for staging multiple armed robberies across the country. The goal of the fake robberies was to enable the “victims” to use the “crimes” as grounds for obtaining a U visa.
According to DOJ attorneys, the two defendants, Rambhai Patel and Balwinder Singh, organized at least eight fake robberies during 2023, four of which were in Massachusetts. During those “robberies” the “robber” would threaten store clerks with an apparent firearm before taking cash from the register and running out. The clerks would then wait five until the “robber” had escaped before calling police to report the “crimes,” which conveniently had been recorded by store surveillance cameras. The “victims” paid the defendants to participate in the scheme and the defendants paid the store owners for use of their stores.
The U visa was established in 2000 as a tool for law enforcement to “detect, investigate, and prosecute cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, and other crimes.” If an alien, even an illegal alien, establishes himself or herself as a victim of any of a long list of crimes, he or she can apply for U visa status after obtaining a certification from law enforcement attesting to their cooperation in the prosecution of the crime. The visa allows them to live in the U.S. without fear of deportation, grants them a work permit, and allows family members to gain legal status as well. Finally, after three years, a U visa holder may obtain a green card.
Because the list of qualifying crimes is so broad and many law enforcement agencies give out these certifications freely, the program has been ripe for fraudsters, as documented by a recent Homeland Security Inspector General report. The report noted how USCIS had approved multiple applications containing serious errors, suspicious or altered certifications, and outright forgeries. The Inspector General faulted USCIS for failure to effectively manage the program and failure to track the outcome of U visa fraud referrals that the agency itself made.
The scheme being currently prosecuted highlights the impact of this fraud. The law is so broadly written and interpreted by the agency that, any illegal alien could simply pay to become the “victim” of a fake armed robbery and gain green cards for himself and his entire family. Even though the stated purpose of the U visa program is to protect alien victims of violent crimes, many nonviolent crimes are used as the basis for applications. Being a victim of conspiracy or attempts to commit any of a huge number of crimes are also enough to put any illegal alien on the path to a green card.
FAIR has consistently opposed many aspects of this program and its expansion, and for good reason. The immigration benefit provided by U visas is a disproportionate response to being the victim of a crime or an attempted crime. Other countries do not offer visitors or illegal aliens permanent residence for being the victim of a crime. Finally, the statute creating the U visa program is not narrowly tailored to achieve its purported goal of protecting genuine victims of violent crimes. Further, while there is a cap of 10,000 visas each year, those who apply are simply afforded the same benefits, like work authorization, while they wait for their visa to be available. Today, nearly 350,000 U visa applications are pending with USCIS.
Protecting victims of crime is a worthy goal, but the U visas program (ironically) can actually incentivize other crimes, like this spree of fake armed robberies and its underlying visa fraud conspiracy or other fake crimes committed in the hope of obtaining U visa status. Just like the myriad crimes committed by illegal aliens, U visa abuse is entirely preventable. Stopping this abuse, when the program is as overbroad and vulnerable to fraud as it is, will require a hard look at whether the program is fit for purpose in the first place.