Fraud and Misuse of Visas, Permits, or Other Documents - 18 U.S.C. § 1546
Visa fraud cases have significantly increased in the United States as government policies make it more challenging to enter the country. Many people enter the country using a visa obtained by using false information.
Some will change their name and identity because they have a prior removal order. Others because they were previously denied on a previous visa application. Some people will change their identity because they have a prior criminal record to prevent them from entering the United States.
While most immigrants will follow the proper procedures to obtain a visa and legally enter the country, many others will commit fraud illegally because they would likely be denied going through the normal process.
When government authorities become aware that someone has allegedly committed visa fraud, they will usually send them a notice of deportation and a hearing.
At the deportation hearing, the accused will be allowed to defend against allegations of visa fraud. If the court rules against them, they will be deported and not acquire a legitimate visa to enter the United States again.
If you are not a citizen of the United States, being authorized to enter, stay, and work in the U.S. is considered a solemn privilege and trust.
That's why attempting to use fraudulent paperwork to prove your right to enter or stay in the country is a serious federal offense.
If you are convicted of fraud and misuse of visas, permits, or other documents, as outlined in 18 U.S.C. 1546, you could face severe fines and up to 25 years in federal prison. Our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys will review below.
What Constitutes Visa or Permit Fraud?
Title 18 U.S.C. 1546 details numerous specific actions that can be prosecuted as fraud and misuse of visas, et al. These include:
- Creating, forging, counterfeiting, or altering documents that authorize a person to enter, reside, or accept employment in the U.S. These documents may include but are not limited to, visas, permits, green cards, border crossing cards, etc.;
- Knowingly receiving, possessing, or attempting to use such false documents;
- Possessing unauthorized blank permits or plates to create false documents (or bring those items into the U.S.);
- Impersonating a deceased person or going under an assumed name when applying for immigration documents;
- Selling, offering to sell, or giving immigration documents to someone not authorized to receive them;
- Making a false statement under oath in official immigration documents, knowingly presenting documents that contain fraudulent statements; or
- Using false documentation, or misusing legitimate documentation, in an attempt to satisfy employment verification requirements;
- Failure to disclose personal, relevant facts would make that person ineligible for a visa, such as a conviction for a violent crime.
Visa fraud is often discovered when someone attempts to enter at a port of entry such as a border crossing or an airport. The United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is the immigration agency that will review a visa.
If they believe visa fraud has occurred, they will send the person to a secondary inspection. They will process their fingerprints, review pictures and immigration records, and ask the suspect several questions.
If they determine that the visa is fraudulent, they will issue an expedited removal order or arrest them on visa fraud charges.
What are the Penalties for Fraud and Misuse of Visas?
To convict someone of visa fraud, the government has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant had possession of a forged, counterfeited, altered, or fraudulently made visa, and they knew it was forged.
Any instance of visa or immigration documentation fraud carries severe penalties under federal law, including fines and prison time. The severity of the sentence depends on the type of offense:
- For using false documentation to verify employment, the penalty is up to 5 years in prison;
- For basic first or second offenses, it's up to 10 years in prison;
- For the third or subsequent offenses, the sentence goes up to 15 years;
- If the fraud is related to drug trafficking, the sentence goes up to 20 years;
- If the fraud is related to international terrorism, the penalty is up to 25 years.
What are the Related Federal Offenses?
The crime of fraud and misuse of visas, permits, or other documents falls into the broader criminal category of passport and visa fraud. This refers to a group of federal laws regulating the documents related to travel in and out of the United States.
Quite often, visa fraud occurs in tandem with several other crimes, so it's not uncommon for multiple charges to be filed against a defendant. Examples of related offenses include:
- Forgery or False Use of Passport - 18 U.S.C. 1543. Examples include creating counterfeit passports, distributing a fake or expired passport, etc. Penalties range from up to 10 years to up to 25 years in prison;
- Misuse of Passport - 18 U.S.C. 1544. Using a legitimate passport for illegitimate purposes—for example, using a passport that isn't yours, giving someone else your passport to use, or using a passport for unauthorized purposes. Penalties range from 10-25 years in prison;
- False Statement in Application and Use of Passport - 18 U.S.C. 1542. It is a crime to lie on a passport application or provide someone with a passport based on false information. Penalties range from up to 10 years to up to 25 years in prison;
- Issuance without Authority - 18 U.S.C. 1541. It is a crime to issue unauthorized passports to people, and it's equally criminal to pose as a government official authorized to issue passports when you are not so authorized. Penalties range from up to 10 years for a first offense and up to 25 years if terrorism is involved;
- Making false statements to obtain a visa – 18 U.S.C. 1001;
- Fraud related to a person's identification documents – 18 U.S.C. 1028;
- Bribing public officials to obtain a visa – 18 U.S.C. 201;
- Conspiracy to defraud the United States - 18 U.S.C. 371.
What are the Common Defenses to Visa and Document Fraud?
As noted, for federal prosecutors to convict you of for fraud and misuse of visas et al., they must demonstrate two things beyond a reasonable doubt:
- The documentation in question is fraudulent; and
- You knew the documentation was fraudulent when you created, forged, obtained, or took possession of it.
Thus, the most common defenses to visa or immigration crimes revolve around showing that you didn't know the documentation was fraudulent or that there was no intention to defraud.
For example, the attorney might argue that you received/purchased the visa from someone else but believed it legitimate.
Perhaps we could argue you were aware the paperwork was fake, but you had no intention of using or distributing it. Maybe the issuing agency made a mistake made on the visa that nullified it. In other words, there was no intent to defraud.
There are a lot of foreign countries with businesses openly advertising they can expedite the process of obtaining a green card to the United States.
Many immigrants are simply unaware these businesses often produce fraudulent documents. Simply put, if we can show they didn't know the documents were fake, then there is a good chance of avoiding a conviction.
If you have been charged with Visa fraud in federal court in Southern California, contact our office to review the details and legal options. Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles County, and you can reach us for an initial consultation at (310) 328-3776 or fill out our contact form.