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DHS: Identity theft a growing means for illegal immigration

Agriculture.com Staff 12/14/2006 @ 8:45am

A lack of action in Congress and no "magic bullet" to solve increasingly complex immigration problems played roles in the events leading up to and the execution of "Operation Wagon Train" this week at six Swift and Company packing plants around the country.

The Department of Homeland Security-Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids of the beef and pork processing facilities Tuesday were the products of months of investigation into both illegal immigration and identity theft, federal officials said Wednesday. In this case, according to Assistant DHS Secretary Julie Myers, the two went hand-in-hand, investigators learned early on in the process that began in February 2006.

"In this case, ICE agents conducting [Criminal Alien Program] interviews in Marshalltown, Iowa, found a troubling pattern," Myers said Wednesday. "They kept on interviewing criminal aliens who said they worked at Swift and who admitted that they had assumed identities -- other's identities in order to circumvent employment eligibility screening.

"At the same time we were conducting these CAP interviews, we started receiving referrals from local police agencies, and we also had several calls to our hotline from anonymous individuals who reported illegal aliens working at Swift.

"These factors led us to open this investigation," Myers said.

Swift officials have denied knowingly hiring illegal immigrants.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Wednesday the Swift plant raids were not based on workers' possible illegal citizenship status, but also the fact some are accused of identity theft. This, Chertoff said, makes the case altogether different.

"The evidence we uncovered indicates that hundreds of Swift workers illegally assumed the identities of U.S. citizens, using stolen or fraudulently acquired Social Security numbers and other identity documents which they used to get jobs at Swift facilities," Chertoff said. "This is not only a case about illegal immigration, which is bad enough. It's a case about identity theft in violation of the privacy rights and the economic rights of innocent Americans. I will tell you that the people whose identities were stolen -- and we believe, based on reporting we got at the federal Trade Commission (FTC) -- that these number at least in the hundreds. These individuals suffered very real consequences in their lives. These were not victimless crimes."

Illegal immigrants using fraudulently obtained, yet legitimate, identities compounds an already huge problem, Myers said. What was once sporadically documented is becoming a regular occurrence.

"In recent years, this fraud has evolved into a disturbing new trend. Now, instead of obtaining fraudulent documents with fraudulent identities, illegal aliens are buying genuine documents with real identities, identities of unwitting U.S. citizens," Myers said Wednesday. "Combating this new and burgeoning problem is one of our highest priorities, and that's why back in April of this year, ICE and the Department of Justice established document and benefit fraud task forces in 11 major cities throughout the United States."

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