Miami-Dade County

Visa fraud on upswing at Miami airport

Passengers wait on lines in the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Passport Control in Concourse E at Miami International Airport.
Passengers wait on lines in the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Passport Control in Concourse E at Miami International Airport. File/2005

Several visa fraud criminal cases have been discovered by passport control officers at Miami International Airport in recent weeks.

Records in Miami federal court show at least four visa fraud cases between late October and mid-November involving travelers from Argentina, Brazil and Guatemala.

All four travelers were arrested after MIA immigration officials figured out that they had previously lived in the United States and then failed to report that to consuls who issued their visitor visas. Under federal law, failure to answer a question truthfully in an immigration interview or questionnaire constitutes a criminal violation and can be prosecuted in court.

Travelers who arrive with genuine U.S. visas on their passports but are not admitted into the country by airport passport control officers is becoming a common occurrence at international airports. In most cases, these travelers have overstayed their prior visas, have been deported previously or have entered the United States illegally and then returned home on their own.

Foreign nationals who overstay their visas make up about 40 percent of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. And those who reenter illegally after having been previously deported are now targeted by immigration officers.

The first MIA case in the most recent series of arrests occurred Oct. 23 when Carlos Enrique Salázar Ochoa arrived aboard an American Airlines flight from Guatemala City.

A criminal complaint filed in Miami federal court by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection enforcement officer explained what happened next.

After Salázar presented his papers, something alerted the passport control officer that something was not right. Salázar was pulled from the regular immigration line and taken to an interrogation room.

Customs investigators discovered during the wider background check that Salázar departed the United States by plane on Dec. 30, 2006, but they could not find a record of his entry. Thus they concluded that he sneaked into the country.

When asked about the record, Salázar admitted to having entered the United States illegally in 2000.

Though Salázar, 36, initially pleaded not guilty, he later pleaded guilty as charged. He has since been sentenced to time served and is now awaiting deportation.

Two other MIA cases took place on Nov. 7.

One of the cases happened when Jose Ronilto Lino arrived on an American Airlines flight from Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

A Customs and Border Protection criminal complaint said Lino admitted during questioning that he had previously entered the United States illegally through the Mexican border after paying a migrant smuggler $8,000.

Lino, 50, has agreed to plead guilty to the charges and is likely to be deported after sentencing, according to court records.

The second case on Nov. 7 unfolded after Gislane Martins De Souza arrived on a flight, also from Belo Horizonte.

Martins De Souza later admitted to immigration officers that she similarly entered through Mexican border illegally and that her husband had paid a migrant smuggler.

The criminal complaint does not say if Martins De Souza and Lino are related — but they arrived on the same plane. Martins De Souza has pleaded guilty and was sentenced to time served and deportation.

Agustín Darío Silva was arrested at MIA on Nov. 15 after he arrived on a flight from Buenos Aires.

Immigration records showed investigators that Silva had previously visited the United States for 90 days on a visa waiver in 2000 — but overstayed his visa by more than eight years, a criminal complaint said.

Records also showed that he has overstayed previously for more than three years between 1989 and 1993.

Silva, 53, has since pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial in Miami federal court.

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