From October 2011 through August 2012, authorities arrested and prosecuted over 230 individuals in the Southern District of California for using fraudulent or altered travel documents, including over 100 U.S. passports.
Operation Joint Shield, a collaborative effort by the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego, targeted the use of false travel documents to illegally gain access to the United States from Mexico through San Ysidro and Otay Mesa.
The joint enforcement operation disrupted smuggling and trafficking efforts along the California-Mexico border and developed information on illegal travel document vendors, trafficking cells, and border smuggling methods and operations.
After serving their criminal sentence, individuals illegally using U.S. passports and visas are formally deported to their home country. Because of our geographic proximity to Mexico, most are deported to Mexico, and the violators are barred from ever lawfully entering into the United States again. When U.S. citizens and legitimate document holders sell or lend their documents, they are also subject to prosecution.
CBP officials note that Tijuana and Mexicali, Mexico, serve as key transit points for illegal aliens seeking entry into the United States. From October 2011 through August 2012, CBP officers in the San Diego Field Office seized 27,165 documents from aliens attempting to enter the country fraudulently either by using counterfeit documents, altered legitimate documents, or by presenting legitimate documents that did not belong to them.
“CBP officers catch hundreds of people daily attempting to fraudulently enter the United States and partnerships with the Diplomatic Security Service and the U.S. Attorney’s Office are crucial to ensure consequences are delivered to those that would engage in criminal activity at our ports of entry,” said Chris Maston, director of field operations for San Diego and Imperial Counties, U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
"The success of this investigation and enforcement operation demonstrates that the Department of State and the Diplomatic Security Service are committed to protecting the integrity of U.S. passports and visas, the most sought after travel documents in the world,” said Wes Weller, Special Agent in Charge of the DSS Los Angeles Field Office.
“There are foreign nationals who fraudulently acquire U.S. passports and visas to carry out criminal activities inside our borders, threatening the national security of the United States,” Weller said. “DSS has a very strong relationship with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in Southern California. With this type of collaboration and teamwork we can more effectively combat travel document fraud and illegal entry into the country.”
“United States passports are the ‘gold standard’ of identification throughout the world. Our office makes every effort to prosecute smugglers who use passports to facilitate illegal entry into the United States. Advances in technology and increased manpower at the ports have been instrumental in identifying this fraud and prosecuting the offenders,” said U.S. Attorney Laura E. Duffy.
Those convicted of passport and visa fraud face a maximum of 10 years in federal prison. Offenders also may be charged with aggravated identity theft, which carries a minimum mandatory sentence of two years to be served consecutive to the underlying offense..
The agencies will continue to conduct regular joint enforcement initiatives in the future. These initiatives are important to maintain control and security at the international border.
The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) mandated that after June 1, 2009, all U.S. citizens entering the United States at its ports of entry must produce a secure travel document such as a passport, passport card, trusted traveler program document, or an enhanced driver’s license from a participating state or province. Under WHTI, CBP is able to run automated checks against law enforcement databases more easily. CBP also can validate the travel documents against information from their issuing agency, thereby substantially increasing the ability to detect and identify fraudulent documents.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection is the unified border agency within the Department of Homeland Security charged with the management, control and protection of the nation’s borders at and between the official ports of entry. CBP is charged with keeping terrorists and terrorist weapons out of the country while enforcing hundreds of U.S. laws. For more information go to www.dhs.gov.
The Bureau of Diplomatic Security, the law enforcement and security arm of the U.S. Department of State, provides a secure environment for the conduct of American diplomacy. To advance American interests and foreign policy, DS protects people, property, and information at more than 280 State Department posts worldwide. DS is the most widely represented U.S. security and law enforcement organization in the world, and a leader in international investigations, threat analysis, cyber security, counterterrorism, and security technology. For more information go to www.diplomaticsecurity.state.gov.
For more information on the U.S. Attorney go to www.doj.gov.
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