View From Lodi, CA: How Miguel Got His Papers

My former student "Miguel" returned to the classroom last week. He had more good news to share.

Regular readers will recall that "Miguel" recently has moved on to bigger and much better things. He landed a $22 an hour construction job with full benefits. The only problem is that Miguel is an illegal alien. By working his construction job, Miguel is keeping an American or a legal immigrant unemployed.

Many inquired how it was possible for Miguel land such a good job without proper documentation. The sad answer is that Miguel has all his papers. They're phony, of course, but they're good enough to get him hired.

Miguel isn't going to need his bogus documents too much longer. "All my paper work is in order," he told me.

As Miguel spoke, my mind ticked off the possible ways he might qualify for a green card. But I drew a blank. Miguel wasn't part of an amnesty, he hasn't married and he has no visa. Finally, I asked him how that was possible.

The answer: $2,500 up front to an Immigration and Naturalization Services employee in Los Angeles with $2,500 to follow when the deal is done.

I have a Salvadoran student who is a very enterprising fellow, too. "Raul" asked me to write a letter on school stationery stating that he has been in the U.S. long enough to qualify for Temporary Protected Status.

Under T.P.S., Salvadorans who have been in the U.S. since February 13, 2001, the date of the second of two devastating earthquakes in El Salvador, can apply for work permits. 

When I told Raul that the I.N.S. could determine his U.S. arrival date by checking school records, he wasn't discouraged. The Roman Catholic Church, Raul informed me, had given him a letter. And Raul was certain he could get a second letter from his fast-food employer.

Adding to Raul's confidence is his sort-of engagement to an American citizen. My guess is that if Raul's letters come through, the girl is gone. If not, Raul walks down the aisle. Either way, Raul stays.

For those in the U.S. illegally, a cornucopia of choices exist for getting bogus documentation. Whatever your budget, the right set of fake documents is just around the corner. The leaders of the multibillion-dollar fake document industry aim to please.

If you have cash and connections you can purchase stolen, forged, blank or counterfeit passports. "Breeder documents" such as driver's licenses and social security cards are just as easy to get. Over time, the starter set will allow illegals to apply for legitimate papers.

A top quality U.S. passport that will fool anyone costs $25,000. Even though Justice Department officials insist that it is increasingly difficult to alter passports, not everyone agrees.

According to John Torpey, a University of British Columbia professor and author of "The Invention of the Passport: Surveillance, Citizenship and the State," it is a neck and neck race between those who produce the document for the governments and those who produce them fraudulently."

For those on the low end of the economic spectrum, $100 is just fine, thank you.

In Sacramento last week, 54 Mexican illegal aliens were arrested for selling fraudulent social security cards at prices ranging from $70 to $100. A wide selection of drugs and weapons were also available.

Corrupt officials--like the one that helped Miguel--can speed things along. In Tennessee Katherine Smith, a driver's license examiner, was arrested for allowing five illegal Middle Easterners to obtain their licenses even though they did not take a driving test.

The five weren't even Tennessee residents. Proving that no obstacle is too great, they had driven from New York to Tennessee - a state infamous for granting licenses to illegals.

In a bizarre twist, Smith was found dead on February 12 in rural Memphis after her car apparently ran off the highway and crashed into a light pole. She had been scheduled to appear in court the next day.

The odd timing of Smith's fatality and the unusually intense fire inside the car triggered an FBI investigation. Some suspect connections between the five defendants and the September 11th attacks.

Said FBI spokesman George Bolds, "if there were individuals involved with her [in the driver's license scheme] who were concerned about their participation being known as a result of her prosecution, they might have a motive to do her harm."

The only way to end the sham of fake documents and corrupt officials is to seal our borders and tighten procedures at overseas consulate offices. Once illegal aliens set foot inside the country, it's game, set and match in their favor. Illegal aliens go underground to purchase the false IDs needed to blend into the mainstream – assuming the federal government doesn't dream up some accommodating program like amnesty or temporary protected status.

Keeping illegal immigrants out of the country should be our number one priority.

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.