By Linda Bentley | january 20, 2016

Puerto Rico as portal for immigration fraud

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Back in 2009, Puerto Rico enacted a new law in collaboration with the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to address the fraudulent use of Puerto Rican birth certificates to illegally obtain U.S. passports, Social Security benefits, other federal benefits and services, and to commit other types of identity theft and fraud.

The new law called for issuing new, security-enhanced certificates beginning July 1, 2010.

As of Sept. 1, 2010, all previously issued birth certificates became invalid.

People born in Puerto Rico are citizens of the United States, so a Puerto Rican birth certificate is a valuable commodity for an illegal alien from a Latin American country that may be seeking to work illegally or to fraudulently obtain social security and other benefits, driver’s license, U.S. passport or a variety of other identification documents in the United States.

One such example is the case of Edinson Canaveral Sanchez, 35, an illegal alien from Columbia, who, in June 2010, willfully and knowingly made a false statement in an application for a passport with the intent to secure a U.S. passport using a fictitious name.

In June 2012, Sanchez also made a false statement and claim that he was a U.S. citizen with the intent to obtain a State of Florida Identification Card.

Sanchez presented a birth certificate from the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and social security card in a fictitious name as proof of his identity.

Then in August, 2012, Sanchez presented a birth certificate from the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and social security card in yet another fictitious name as proof of his identity in order to secure a Florida Driver License.

The maximum penalty for making a false statement in an application for a passport is 10 years’ imprisonment, while the other two counts of false claims of U.S. citizenship to obtain a state benefit are punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, along with any fines, restitution, special assessments, parole terms or forfeiture that may be applicable.

Sanchez applied for a United States passport on June 30, 2010 in the city of Plantation, Fla. Office, claiming to be “E.X.S.C.”

He listed his birth date as June 22, 1982 and presented a Florida driver license issued March 5, 2008 under the name E.X.S.C. but bearing Sanchez’s photo, along with a Puerto Rican birth certificate under the same fictitious name.

When Sanchez applied for the U.S. passport he verbally swore, under penalty of perjury, before an authorized passport acceptance clerk as to the truthfulness of all the information contained in his application, including his name, date of birth, place of birth and social security number.

When Sanchez applied for a Florida driver license in August 2012 at a Department of Motor Vehicles office in Pompano Beach, he presented another Puerto Rican birth certificate and social security card as proof of citizenship, this time in the name of “R.L.R.”

Sanchez was only caught because of an encounter with law enforcement on Sept. 3, 2015, during which he stated his name is Edinson Canaveral Sanchez, his date of birth was Nov. 3, 1979 and he was a citizen of Columbia.

Sanchez also stated he entered the United States illegally in 2001 via San Diego, Calif.

He was fingerprinted and it was confirmed his fingerprints matched those of Edinson Canaveral Sanchez.

Rather than go to trial, Sanchez, who was taken into custody after being indicted on Sept. 17, 2015, entered a plea agreement on Dec. 30, 2015, in which he agreed to plead guilty to counts 1 and 3: making a false statement on an application for a passport and making a false claim of U.S. citizenship.

In return, the U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO) agreed to dismiss one of the two counts of making a false claim of U.S. citizenship.

Sanchez was advised of the maximum terms of imprisonment that could be imposed for each offense: 10 years and five years, respectively, followed by a term of supervised release of up to three years on each count, in addition to the possibility of a fine of up to $250,000.

However, the USAO agreed it will recommend at sentencing that the court reduce by two levels the sentencing guideline applicable to Sanchez’s offense due to Sanchez’s “affirmative and timely acceptance of personal responsibility.”

The USAO also agreed to recommend Sanchez be sentenced to the low end of the guideline range.

Sanchez was also advised his guilty plea “may” have consequences with respect to his immigration status.

However, removal and other immigration consequences would be the subject of a separate proceeding.

Sanchez affirmed he wanted to plead guilty regardless of any immigration consequences his plea may entail, even if the consequence is his automatic removal from the United States.

Free on $50,000 bond, Sanchez, whose passport was surrendered by his wife, is scheduled for sentencing at 1:15 p.m. on March 9, 2016 in the Fort Lauderdale Division of U.S. District Court.

It was not made clear through any of the court documents if the fraudulent birth certificates used by Sanchez were the older variety or the newer “security-enhanced” certificates.

But it does raise questions as to how prevalent the use of fraudulent Puerto Rican birth certificates has been as breeding documents for obtaining “legitimate” identification, U.S. passports, driver’s licenses, benefits, etc.