A wave of illegal aliens into the metropolitan region — officially estimated at more than one million — has overwhelmed the Federal Immigration and Naturalization Service here, virtually paralyzing the enforcement of immigration laws.
A 10-week investigation by The New York Times shows that, through individual and organized fraud, counterfeiting, falsification of travel and identification papers and smuggling, illegal aliens have mounted what immigration authorities call a “silent invasion” of New York and northern New Jersey.
Thousands of these mobile aliens — mostly poor, young, marginally skilled Latin Americans who could not qualify for legal immigration — arrive each month, and now seem to outnumber legal resident aliens here.
The illegal aliens come to work illicitly and save money and decide whether to stay permanently. And the vast majority of these men and women, blending into polyglot communities on the Upper West Side and in Queens, Brooklyn and other areas, are going undetected.
“We’re at a standstill in terms of our ability to go out and remove aliens who are not entitled to be here,” said Henry E. Wagner, investigations chief of District 3 of the immigration service, which includes the city, Long Island and seven other counties in southern New York.
Short of Funds and Staff
“But I’m coming to the conclusion that nobody except us gives a damn,” Mr. Wagner said, “and we don’t have the money or the men to carry out the law.”
Interviews with more than 100 people here and in the Caribbean also reveal a flourishing, extensive, well-established pattern of organized fraud, illicit dealings in genuine and fake visas and other documents and smuggling of aliens through Puerto Rico, the Bahamas and Canada.
‘Seeking Greener Fields’
Nothing, it appears, is sufficient to deter the illegal aliens from coming. Not the forms that require tourist visa applicants to certify that they will not work or overstay their visit. Not the expense of buying documents on the black market in Latin America for up to $1,500, or the fear of exposure. Not the clandestine crossings of the Mona channel between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico in cramped fishing boats, or the random inspections of crowded flights from San Juan York.
The weakness of the immigration service here and the impunity with which most illegal aliens are able to flout the laws against them once they arrive are illustrated by the statistics.
There are now one million to 1.5 million illegal aliens in District 3 of the immigration service, with two-thirds of them in the city, according to Maurice F. Kiley, the district director.
To detect this number of aliens — on their jobs, at their homes and elsewhere — in what is known as “area control,” the district now has 28 agents. And as the number of agents has dwindled from 50 in recent months with a shift in national work priorities imposed by Leonard F. Chapman Jr., the Commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the number of illegal aliens seized here has declined by 3u to 50 per cent.
5,300 deported in 5 Years
In the list five years, District 3 officials have deported about 5,300 persons and verified the departure of 55,000 aliens who were allowed to leave voluntarily after their illegal status was discovered. But the service does not know whether another 48,000 illegal aliens who were ordered to leave actually went home. It has no record of their departure, and it is not trying to find them.
More than 48,000 complaints from the public about persons suspected of being illegal aliens here are piled up awaiting investigation — the figure was 44,000 before “unpromising” leads were pulled from the file in the last two years. Hundreds of new leads, including letters from scorned lovers and from employers who want to reduce their work forces without firings, arrive each week.
Lying dormant in bulging file cabinets at the service’s headquarters at 20 West Broadway are thousands of cases of persons who entered the district on student visas but who did not attend their designated schools or who dropped out without an indication of their having gone home.
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of cases of fraudulent or criminal activity by aliens, ranging from drug trafficking to prostitution to driving without a license, are also unassigned. And “active” caseloads are often enormous. In the criminal unit alone, 13 agents and two supervisors are currently handling more than 800 cases that might result in deportation or voluntary departure of aliens.
Conflict Over Reports
According to agents who asked not to be identified, thousands of Police Department reports of arrests of aliens not all of them illegals — have been thrown out by the service without investigation. Mr. Wagner denied the assertion. He said that many reports of minor crimes by aliens had simply been “laid aside” for lack of agents to review them.
The plight of the immigration service here in enforcing the law is matched by the problems confronting the American Foreign Service In its efforts to stem the flow of illegal aliens, especially in the last decade.
To persuade American consuls that they have ample reason to return home on time — the critical test in obtaining a non-immigrant visa — many aliens pad bank accounts, forge letters of employment locally, have houses and other property listed under their names temporarily and rent “show” money and clothing to appear affluent. In Kingston, a tailor turned out suits for visa applicants even as they stood in pre-dawn queues at the consulate.
Some applicants attempt to bribe consuls with money or sex — at least two consuls who were mentioned in connection with bribes in recent years in Cali, Colombia, and Santo Domingo are “no longer on the rolls of the Foreign Service,” a State Department official confirmed. Other applicants apply pressure by local government officials, including senior ministers, or through friends, and relatives here, enlist the aid of American legislators at all levels.
Senator’s Letter Sought
Last month, in a car parked at dusk in front of the casino in Port-au-Prince, a Haitian “entrepreneur” offered an American $500 for every name the American could arrange to have included in a letter from any United States Senator to the consulate, requesting expedition of visas,
“We would never run out of names,” said the Haitian, who took from his pockets the passports of 32 persons who had been denied visas. “This would be a start and with a Senator’s letter, it’s a sure thing.”
In Haiti, anxious applicants for visas may call on the powers of voodoo. In the Dominican Republic self-styled “papa-bocos,” or witches, offer to win over the “five senses of the American consul” by blowing cigar smoke in the face of an applicant and anointing him with a sticky mixture of oils, herbs, cologne, white sugar and “holy” water. The cost is $13.13.
Many applicants who cannot obtain visas turn to local travel agents or “consultants” whose package deals often include counterfeit visas or American resident alien cards or genuine documents cut out of passports or otherwise stolen or bought for illegitimate use. In one Caribbean country, a travel agent hired a runner from the foreign ministry who, on official stationery and in the name of the nation’s president, requested 100 tourist vitas over a period of months.
But, for thousands of aliens, smuggling may be cheaper.
Across Canadian Border
An increasing number of Latin Americans are flying to Toronto and Montreal and, among Canadians and persons of their own nationalities, finding smugglers who will drive them at night down unguarded back roads into Vermont or New York State — at times to a waiting “guide” near Lake Champlain or to the bus station in Plattsburgh, N. Y., or Burlington, Vt.
Many aliens come through the border checkpoints — hidden in the trunks of cars or Jammed in the back seat between smugglers with valid entry papers, or carrying some “proof” of residence in the United States, such as a Social Security or voter registration card. Only last spring the immigration service arrested a Jamaican who was going from one Board of Elections office to another here, acquiring registration cards and selling them to aliens in Canada for up to $250 apiece.
Edward Wildblood, deputy commissioner for operations of the immigration service’s northeast regional office in Burlington, estimated that at least 50 per cent of the 6,012 persons apprehended by the Border Patrol in that region last year were destined for New York.
Until recently, he said, 90 per cent of apprehensions involved Canadians who were Ineligible to enter the United States because of prior deportations, criminal convictions or other reasons. But more and more citizens of other countries, particularly from the Caribbean, “are using Canada as a stepping stone into the U.S.,” he said, and the proportion of Canadians apprehended has dropped to 70 per cent.
In the Caribbean itself, a major smuggling route runs between the coves of northern Haiti and Nassau in the Ba hamas, where aliens then try to set off for Miami or New York. An even more popular route, however, is the “Puerto Rico Run” from northern and eastern Dominican Republic where, on a clear day, the commonwealth can be sighted 75 miles across the Mona channel.
In the Dominican Republic, it is said that a person who cannot qualify for a visa to the United States should go to see the American consul in Miches.
There is no consul in Miches, a small, ramshackle town on the north coast full of pigs and mud and men on horseback with machetes dangling from their waistbands. But there are beaches shaded by palms and almond trees and, for the emigrant with $150 and no papers, there are fishermen who will make the rough, day-long crossing to the unwatched inlets and villages of Puerto Rico.
The common view in Miches is that Dominican officials will never stop this traffic, and may not even want to. “There is a law of nature that you can’t go against the people’s will,” a wiry, old resident explained.
In a hill-top fort above Miches, the local army commander agreed that it was nearly impossible to halt the smuggling. “Muy dificil, muy dificil,” muttered the commander, who was lying in his underwear on a gray iron cot, his pistol under his pillow and a dozen of his men gathered round. “We try to catch them at sea because if we surprise them on land,” he said, “the judge lets them go.”
Jumbo Jets a Problem
After they arrive in the commonwealth, many of them borrow, buy or make up Puerto Rican birth or baptismal certificates for use at San Juan airport or, later, in the United States. Posing as Puerto Ricans, they book a flight for New York, where passengers of any nationality from the commonwealth are not inspected by immigration.
“We get the last crack at them,” said James H. Walker, a senior immigration official in San Juan. Passengers bound for New York, or elsewhere in the United States, are stopped and interrogated on an “as needed” basis at San Juan airport but, Mr. Walker said, “we had better control” before the jumbo jets. “It’s become an impossible task now, with our limited manpower,” he added.
Nor is it easy for immigration inspectors at Kennedy Airport in Queens.
On Nov. 16 Gloria Moreta-Cueto, a 34-year-old Dominican arriving on a noon flight from Santo Domingo, attempted to pass through inspection with a passport in which her photograph and identification had been substituted on two pages. Earlier in the week, three other Dominicans who had purchased tickets from the same travel agency in Santo Domingo as Mrs. Moreta-Cueto were prevented from entering with similarly fraudulent documents.
First Curbs in 1875
Mrs. Moreta-Cueto toyed with her lacquered black hair and knitted shawl and told immigration officials that she was unaware of the passport having been dummied. But she withdrew her application for admission and left on the next plane for Santo Domingo, She was one of 750 persons who withdrew from Kennedy Airport in the last year (another 125 ware barred from enteringtiafter hberings before immigraon judges), but immigration inspectors have no idea how many fraudulent documents escaped their scrutiny.
However they get here today, illegal aliens are nothing new to New York. This area has had illegal aliens, nearly all of whom were from the Eastern Hemisphere, since Congress began regulating immigration in 1875 and especially since the adoption in 1924 of a controversial national origins quota system for the Eastern Hemisphere.
But only since 1965, when the immigration laws affecting both hemispheres were changed and the first restrictions were placed on the number and kind of emigrants from the Western Hemisphere, has the size of the illegal alien population here grown to the point where it now dwarfs the capacity of the immigration service to enforce the laws.
Before 1965, a citizen of a country in the Western. Hemisphere could emigrate to the United States by demonstrating to a consul that he could support himself in this country. But the conditions for emigration now, particularly from the Western Hemisphere, are much more severe and complicated and, it is generally agreed, serve as a stimulous for illegal immigration.
The Limits Today
In both hemispheres there is a labor certification requirement in which an applicant for immigration must satisfy the United States Department of Labor that his employment will not adversely affect the job market in the area where he will work. And nearly 50 categories of workers, from bartenders to taxicab drivers, from farm laborers to maids and sales clerks, are automatically disqualified from certification.
In the Eastern Hemisphere there is a ceiling of 170,000 immigrants annually, a per country limit of 20,000 that is rarely filled except for the Philippines, and a preference system based primarily on relationship to United States citizens and resident aliens.
In the Western Hemisphere, there is a ceiling of 120,000 immigrants each year, with no per country limit: However, children and spouses of United States citizens and parents of adult citizens are exempt from both the 120,000 limit and labor certification. Spouses and parents of resident aliens and parents of minor United States citizens are exempt from labor certification, but not from the numerical restriction.
A result of these changes in the laws has been a 2½-year waiting period for emigration from anywhere in the Western Hemisphere and a waiting line that is loaded with persons exempt from labor certification, including Cubans who are “paroled” into this country without initial numerical limit and who are permitted to become resident aliens after two years, when they are counted against the 120,000.
For the non-Cuban citizen in the Western Hemisphere who cannot obtain labor certification and who does not have immediate relatives living legally in the United States, there is virtually no hope of legally emigrating — even if he were willing to wait more than two years.
Job Office Needed
It is also very difficult to arrange for labor certification without coming to the United States because an applicant must have a specific job offer, and few employers will offer a position to an alien who is living abroad and whose work they have not seen.
On the other hand, it is possible for an alien to come here on a tourist visa, take a job illegally, obtain labor certification on the basis of that employment, apply by mail for an immigrant visa, continue working until the visa is available in two years, return to his home country for a day to be issued the visa by a consul and come back as a legal resident entitled to hold any jot available to him.
In fact, more than half the 20,000 annual requests for labor certification in the metropolitan area involve aliens who are here and probably work ing illegally, according to the United States Labor Depart ment. And the Labor Depart ment informs the Immigration service of that employment only when certification is devied. The approval rate is about 70 per cent.
“Under these conditions you’d have to be some kind of a fool to stay in another country and give up,” a prominent immigration lawyer here said “At worst, if you’re caught, they’ll send you back.”
Yet no one really knows how many aliens are working here illegally, just as no one — not the immigration service or the State Department — is certain of the total number of illegal aliens in this region or else. where in the United States,
A Census Problem
John C. Cullinane, regional director of the Census Bureau, said the bureau “would have no way of knowing” whether illegal aliens were counted in the 1970 census, when the city’s population was officially put at close to 8 million. Blacks and Hispanics are often said to be undercounted In censuses.
Mr. Kiley, the director of District 3 of the immigration service in southern New York, said his estimate of 1.5 million illegal aliens in the district was based on “what we see in areas and what community leaders and other sources tell us.” As much as 80 per cent of the illegal aliens here are from South America and Central America and the Caribbean, he said, with Chinese, Greeks (mostly crew members who have jumped ship), Filipinos and Italians also represented.
Some ethnic organizations assert that Mr. Kiley’s 1.5 million figure is grossly inflated, but some priests and community workers who have considerable contact with aliens say the figure is realistic.
No Limit on Some Visas
More than 630,000 legal resident aliens — immigrants who are not naturalized citizens — are registered in the, district, of whom 40 per cent are from the Western Hemisphere. And an unknown number,of legal aliens are not registered, although it is required by law.
As a measure of the large number of illegal aliens here, Mr. Wagner, the immigration investigations chief here, noted that, while 50,553 Dominicans were registered as legal aliens in the district, most sources placed the number of Dominicans living in the city alone at 200,000 or more. “Illegals make up the difference,” he said. “They are not legal aliens who didn’t bother to register.”
Between 1964 and 1973, the State Department issued 3,190,000 non-immigrant visas in the Western. Hemisphere, excluding Canada and Mexico. There is no ceiling on non-immigrant visas.
In the same years, according to the immigration service, 1,464,000 visitors for pleasure or business, excluding students and Mexicans and Canadians, entered New York by air. Immigration officials said they did not know how many of these visitors were en route to other states or how many of the more than 1.7 million Latin Americans who entered the United States through San Juan, Miami or other airports were destined for this area.
Whatever their differences On numbers, almost everyone concerned with illegal aliens agrees that the motivation for this exodus from Latin America is economic. The aliens are coming mainly from countries where per capita income ranges from $100 to $900; where unemployment hovers between 20 and 30 per cent of the labor force; where populations are doubling, at current rates; every 25 to 35 years.
Many government officials in Latin America do not want to talk about the subject of illegal aliens, and more than a few regard the emigration as a convenient, if not crucial, “safety valve” for their countries. Some even lobby in Washington against tougher laws affecting illegal aliens.
‘A Migratory People’
“We try to insure that Jamaicans follow scrupulously he laws of other governnents,” said Hugh Bonnick, a op aide to Prime Minister dichael Manley, “but ours is migratory people, and we vould have a severe domestic problem if we tried to restrict their leaving. The United states, as we all know, has the machinery and the means for racking down people who don’t belong there and seeing they return.”
Rarely do Latin American governments prosecute their citizens for attempting to subrert American immigration laws.
For example, on Sept. 6, 973, a 43-year-old Haitian with an altered visa was reused entry at Kennedy Airport. The Haitian said he bought the visa for $500 from a particular travel agent in Port-au-Prince. Immigration authorities notified the American consulate and the consulate intimed the Haitian police and Foreign Ministry.
But the travel agent is still very much in business. The other day he leaned over a desk n the back room of his agency hear the National Palace, rushed aside a drawing of the past Supper mounted on a wooden stand engraved with “New York City” and offered, for $1,000, to help a Haitian come here illegally.
Fraud is not all, however. Many tourists honor the terms of their visas and return home on time. And some illegal aliens obtained their visas with good intentions and decided to overstay and work in this area, if only for a year or two, after they arrived.