The arrest here this week of an unemployed mechanic on charges of impersonating an immigration officer and defrauding more than 20 illegal aliens out of $2,000 each points up the dangers to unwary aliens in the months ahead, the Western regional commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service said Thursday.
Harold Ezell, the top INS official in Southern California, expressed fear that more scams of the type suspected on the part of Oscar del Rio, 41, could be attempted before the INS begins accepting applications for amnesty that could lead to legal residency for illegal aliens.
Del Rio, arrested Tuesday, is accused of charging aliens to fill out papers which he told them would enable them to secure legal status now. In some cases, he is also accused of seeking sexual favors from women who dealt with him.
Some of the aliens went to the U.S. consulate in Tijuana carrying INS forms marked with fake seals which Del Rio allegedly gave them to secure visas, only to be told when they arrived that the documents were phony.
"Aliens need to know that no applications (for amnesty) will be accepted until May, and that besides, there are plenty of voluntary groups willing to advise them for free, or for a nominal fee," Ezell said. "There are sharks out there taking advantage of people, charging $250, $1,000, or, as apparently in this case, even more."
Ezell said it was an alien who provided the original tip that Del Rio, who allegedly was identifying himself as "Officer Garcia," was carrying out the scam, each count of which carries a possible three-year prison term.
After Del Rio's arrest, other aliens came forward, and it is now believed there may have been more than 50 victims over a period of a year, Ezell said.
An Air of Authenticity
"This guy was a slick con artist," the INS commissioner said. "He would actually produce what looked like a legitimate document."
The INS officer who investigated the case, Mike Miera, found that, to create an impression of authenticity, Del Rio carried a cap gun which appeared to be a real pistol, handcuffs and a walkie-talkie. He allegedly also had the gall to make solicitations in the cafeteria of the downtown federal building, where some aliens come in an attempt to legalize their status.
Ezell said that aliens who come forward to help the INS in such cases are often kept on hand as material witnesses and are not deported. Often, too, he suggested they are found to be qualified for a temporary resident permit.
"This is not the first such case we have had, nor, I fear, will it be the last," the INS commissioner said.