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Document and Benefit Fraud

HSI special agents arrest criminal alien following employment verification audit

EL PASO, Texas — A previously deported Mexican national with an aggravated felony conviction was arrested Wednesday after special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) conducted an employment verification audit of the local business where he worked.

HSI special agents in El Paso encountered and arrested Juan Contreras-Arballo, 51, on Feb. 1.

Contreras-Arballo allegedly used his legitimate Social Security and Texas Identification cards to fraudulently apply for a job at an El Paso business. HSI special agents assigned to the Public Safety/Worksite group identified Contreras-Arballo during a routine audit of Form I-9s, which are required to be completed by all newly hired employees.

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) requires employers to verify the identity and employment eligibility of all individuals hired in the United States. By law, employers are required to maintain for inspection original Form I-9s for all current employees.

In the Contreras-Arballo case, further investigation revealed he had been a U.S. permanent resident. However, Contreras was convicted of corporal injury to a spouse in 1999. Based on this conviction, he lost his legal status and he became eligible for deportation. He served his prison sentence and in 2002 he was removed to Mexico. He illegally re-entered the United States later that year. In 2007, Contreras was arrested and convicted for using anhydrous ammonia equipment in Seminole, Texas, which is also a felony. He also served time for this conviction. Anhydrous ammonia, a colorless gas with pungent, suffocating fumes, is used primarily as an agricultural fertilizer and industrial refrigerant. It's also a key ingredient for methamphetamine production in makeshift laboratories.

Re-entering the United States after being formally deported is a felony that carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison.

For the past nearly four years, Contreras-Arballo has been working illegally in El Paso. In the Form I-9 that he signed under penalty of perjury when he was hired, he falsely claimed he was a U.S. citizen. Form I-9 audits are part of HSI's overall strategy to promote compliance with U.S. employment laws and deter illegal employment.

In the past year, HSI El Paso has arrested about 20 individuals for using fraudulent documents to obtain employment. Of those, several were also charged with identify theft. Four, including Contreras-Arballo, had been previously deported as aggravated felons. Contreras-Arballo made his initial appearance in court on Thursday. His preliminary and detention hearing is set for Feb 7.

"Our primary goal in HSI is to help make our country and communities safer," said Dennis A. Ulrich, acting special agent in charge for HSI El Paso. "We live on the border across from one of the most dangerous cities in the world. We must be especially vigilant in identifying and arresting criminal aliens who infiltrate our work force, and try to blend into our community."