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Immigration document and benefit fraud are crimes that threaten the national security and public safety of the U.S.
Passports being examined

Immigration document and benefit fraud are crimes that threaten the national security and public safety of the U.S. by creating a vulnerability which potentially enables terrorists, other criminals and illegal aliens to gain entry to and remain in the United States. It also threatens the integrity of the lawful immigration system administered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) through the adjudication of applications for immigration benefits.

Benefit fraud is the willful misrepresentation of a material fact on a petition or application to gain an immigration benefit. Benefit fraud can be an extremely lucrative form of white-collar crime, often involving sophisticated schemes and multiple co-conspirators. These schemes can take years to investigate and prosecute.

Document fraud, also known as identity fraud, is the manufacturing, counterfeiting, alteration, sale, and/or use of identity documents and other fraudulent documents to circumvent immigration laws or for other criminal activity. Identity fraud may also involve identity theft, a crime in which an imposter takes on the identity of a real person (living or deceased).

Document and benefit fraud are used in the commission of many other crimes, such as human smuggling and human trafficking, money laundering, narcotics crimes, and financial and trade crimes. Transnational gangs have also used both benefit and document fraud to allow their members to travel to or remain in the U.S., where they commit acts of violence.

The Identity and Benefit Fraud Unit oversees investigations of document and benefit fraud schemes conducted by HSI special agents nationwide and in attaché offices overseas. Through its Document and Benefit Fraud Task Forces (DBFTFs), the IBFU coordinates investigative efforts with other U.S. Department of Homeland Security components, such as USCIS and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), as well as other federal agencies such as the U. S. Department of State and U.S. Department of Labor.

Document and Benefit Task Force
HSI has partnered with federal, state, and local counterparts to create the DBFTF, a series of multi-agency teams developed to target the criminal organizations and beneficiaries behind these fraudulent schemes.

Since 2006, HSI has partnered with federal, state, and local counterparts to create the Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force (DBFTF), a series of multi-agency teams developed to target the criminal organizations and beneficiaries behind these fraudulent schemes.

The DBFTFs maximize resources, eliminate duplication of effort, and produce a strong law enforcement presence. They combine HSI's unique criminal and administrative authorities with a variety of tools and authorities from other law enforcement agencies to achieve focused, high-impact criminal prosecutions and financial seizures.

In FY 2019, HSI added DBFTFs in Cleveland, Fort Lauderdale, Pittsburgh, Las Vegas, and Omaha.  With an additional DBFTF in Saipan, which was stood up in FY20, HSI now has 36 DBFTFs in the U.S. and its territories.

“Threats to our nation’s national security and public safety do not end at the border. The use of fraudulent documents and misrepresentations made on immigration forms allow individuals to enter and remain in the U.S. under false pretenses.  HSI ‘s Document and Benefit Fraud Task Forces are a powerful tool used to combat these types of crimes. The value of collaboration with partners such as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the State Department, and the Department of Labor, working side by side with HSI Special Agents, is key to the many successful investigations in this area which have resulted in jail time for the perpetrators, the seizure of illicit assets, and a message of deterrence for those who may be contemplating similar crimes.” -- AD Nevano

DBFTF Successes in 2019

Rapid DNA Technology Helps Detect Family Unit Fraud at Southwest Border in 2019

By posing as families, unrelated immigrants primarily from Central and South America and illegally present in the United States are circumventing the U.S. immigration system to secure release after turning themselves in to U.S. border authorities.  HSI is aware of cases where children have been exploited by individuals falsely claiming to be their parents so that they can be released as a “family unit” rather than face detention. In addition to putting those children at risk by leaving them in the care of unrelated individuals, family unit fraud can lead to, or stem from, other crimes including immigration identity and benefit fraud, alien smuggling, human trafficking, foreign government corruption, and child exploitation. 

To detect and prevent family unit fraud, HSI, along with ICE’s Enforcement Removal Operations and CBP, implemented Operation Double Helix, a 2019 pilot program designed to assess the extent of family unit fraud at the border, bolster fraud prosecutions, and, most importantly, ensure that children are not allowed to remain with those who are exploiting them.  Rapid DNA technology can reliably detect familial relationships (and the lack thereof) in less than 90 minutes, allowing fraud to be swiftly and efficiently confirmed after suspicion arises based on other information, such as interviews or the presentation of fraudulent documents.

In May, 2019, a previously deported national of Honduras was arrested after attempting to enter the U.S with an infant child he claimed to be his son.  After presenting a fraudulent Honduran birth certificate at the U.S. Border Patrol Central Processing Center in McAllen, Texas, he was referred to HSI special agents for interview and further investigation. He later admitted to the agents that he had obtained fraudulent document to show him as the father of the child, and that he intended to use the child to further his unlawful entry in to the U.S.

"Cases like this demonstrate the real danger that exists to children in this disturbing new trend,” said HSI Acting Executive Associate Director Alysa Erichs. “And while we have seen egregious cases of smugglers renting and recycling children, this case involving a six-month-old infant is a new low – and an unprecedented level of child endangerment.”

Marriage fraud is a threat to U.S. national security, public safety and the integrity of the immigration system.

Marriage fraud investigations conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) have revealed massive schemes that involve complex criminal organizations.

Neither victimless nor limited in scope, the crime of marriage fraud is anything but a trivial matter. Engaging in this fraud and trading America's security for financial gain is a felony with serious criminal penalties and consequences.

Types of Marriage Fraud

  • A U.S. citizen is paid, or asked to perform a favor, to marry a foreign national;
  • "Mail-order" marriage where either the U.S. citizen or alien knows it is a fraud;
  • Visa lottery fraudulent marriage; and,
  • A foreign national defrauds a U.S. citizen who believes the marriage is legitimate.

Penalties

An individual will be charged with marriage fraud if they entered into a marriage for the purpose of evading U.S. immigration law. This felony offense carries a prison sentence of up to five years and a fine of up to $250,000, and applies to both foreign nationals and U.S. citizens who perpetrate this crime.

Those charged with marriage fraud may also be charged with visa fraud, harboring an alien, conspiracy and making false statements; each charge carries additional prison sentences and financial penalties.

Further Consequences

U.S. citizens who enter into fraudulent marriages assume great personal liability. The foreign spouse may gain access to sensitive, personal information including, but not limited to, bank accounts, safe deposit boxes, retirement and investment accounts, personal identity information, and family heirlooms.

Terrorists and other criminals can use marriage fraud as a vehicle to enter the United States, often due to the willingness of U.S. citizens. They can then hide their identity, gain unlawful employment, access government buildings, and open bank accounts and businesses to conduct further criminal activity.

Participants in marriage fraud may, knowingly or unknowingly, be aiding terrorists, foreign intelligence or other criminal organizations, and will be held accountable.

Marriage Fraud Initiative

HSI has recently launched a nationwide marriage fraud outreach campaign to raise public awareness, educate partner organizations, and deter individuals from engaging in this criminal activity. The Marriage Fraud Initiative (MFI) seeks to counter the common perception among the public and in popular culture that entering into a fraudulent marriage, with the sole purpose of assisting a foreign national with gaining U.S. immigration status, is a harmless transgression with little or no consequences. The MFI highlights not only the damaging impact on public safety, national security, and the integrity of the lawful immigration system, but the potential adverse personal, financial and legal ramifications for U.S. citizens who either knowingly or are duped into participating in sham marriages. The MFI strives to combat and prevent marriage fraud through increased public knowledge, forging long-term partnerships and renewed vigilance.

Marriage Fraud Brochure (PDF | 3.2 MB)

 

One of the fundamental challenges in combating document fraud at state-level Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) locations is the identification of employee misconduct. In order to enhance identification efforts, ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) developed an outreach initiative to raise awareness about employee misconduct and alert law enforcement to identity and benefit fraud schemes perpetrated at DMV facilities.  HSI developed outreach materials that promote accountability and vigilance in an effort to reduce fraud and preserve the integrity of the DMV process. HSI encourages the public and DMV employees to report corruption via the ICE tip line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE and via local DMV tip lines. Reporting this crime gives the public and employees an opportunity to be a part of the solution.

DMV Outreach Poster (PDF | 668 KB)

 

Operation Genesius was launched in 2009 as a voluntary partnership with the printing industry to share information and develop investigative leads about the practices of organized document fraud rings. Operation Genesius is based upon a similar and successful voluntary partnership project between the London Metropolitan Police Department and printing companies that affords an opportunity for the printing industry to collaborate with ICE to identify and disrupt document fraud. Operation Genesius expanded this collaboration to the stamp making and marking device industries.

Operation Genesius Brochure (PDF | 251 KB)

 

Last Reviewed/Updated: 12/04/2019