When Everlid Fernández González landed at Miami International Airport on June 14 on a flight from Lima, Peru, the passport control officer who received her became suspicious because her travel papers showed discrepancies. Her Chilean passport bore her name, but another document featured a different name.
Fernández González, 20, was pulled from the regular immigration line and taken to an interrogation room, according to a criminal complaint filed by a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) investigator. She revealed she was a Peruvian pretending to be Chilean, because Chileans don’t need a visa to visit the United States, and that a relative bought the Chilean passport from a friend for $10,000.
Her case was part of an increasing number of immigration violations emerging in South Florida federal courts ranging from fraudulent passports, to visa overstays to foreign nationals who have returned illegally after being previously deported.
In the case of the Peruvian woman posing as a Chilean, her arrest came two months before authorities in Chile busted a ring of identity thieves who sold Chilean birth certificates to undocumented foreign nationals from Bolivia, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic and Peru — who could then apply for Chilean passports.
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CBP did not comment on the issue, but one of the agency’s officials praised passport control officers for stopping the entry of fake Chileans.
Diane J. Sabatino, director of field operations for the CBP Miami and Tampa field offices, said in a statement: “These cases clearly demonstrate the training and diligence of our officers in identifying fraudulently obtained travel documents. … CBP Officers are trained to discover inconsistencies that lead to the identification of people that are coming here for illicit purposes.”
The website of the Chilean newspaper El Mercurio reported in September that U.S. and Chilean authorities had opened a joint investigation into whether the birth certificate ring had links to a possible international network that sold Chilean passports to foreigners not entitled to them, so they could enter the United States without visas.
“The goal is to find out if there are any foreigners who may have obtained citizenship through this method in order to enter the United States through visa waiver,” El Mercurio said. “Authorities revealed that two cases had been detected, but they might have been isolated.”
El Mercurio did not detail the two cases, but the report came after two cases of fake Chileans were discovered at Miami International: the one in June and another one in August.
Mara Beltrán Chávez, 36, arrived at MIA on Aug. 1 on a flight from Argentina, according to a CBP criminal complaint filed in Miami federal court.
A passport control officer pulled her from the regular immigration line because he noticed there was an alert regarding the traveler about possible false identity, according to the complaint.
“CBP officers determined that the Chilean passport was genuine, but had been obtained through fraud,” according to the criminal complaint. “As a result of her sworn statement, Mara Beltrán Chávez admitted she was … a Peruvian citizen.”
In addition, according to the complaint, Beltrán Chávez also disclosed how she obtained the Chilean passport. “She said her partner introduced her to his friend Carlos, who could obtain a real Chilean passport for her issued under a fraudulent identity for the amount of $3,000,” the complaint said. “She paid half before she received the documents and half after she took possession of them.”
The Chilean website Contácto said in September that a woman identified as Ana California helped undocumented foreign nationals to obtain birth certificates and other official Chilean identity documents. Though Contácto did not mention passports, some of those documents can be used to apply for Chilean passports.
Contácto quoted a Chilean prosecutor saying that after obtaining ID documents, several “fake Chileans” had departed for the United States, Mexico and Singapore — ostensibly with genuine Chilean passports.
“We are dealing with a very complex ring dedicated to manufacturing Chileans,” Contácto quoted Emiliano Arias, the prosecutor, as saying.
The fake-Chilean issue resembles the fake-Puerto Rican criminal trend noticed in recent years. Undocumented immigrants from various countries in Latin America have been buying birth certificates from Puerto Ricans, who are U.S. citizens, so they can apply for American passports and then live and work illegally in the United States.
Dozens of fake Puerto Rican cases have emerged in South Florida federal courts, even after the government in San Juan invalidated birth certificates issued prior to July 1, 2010, in a bid to stem passport fraud.
One of the most recent fake Puerto Rican cases appeared on the Miami federal court docket in November when a special agent of the State Department’s diplomatic security service filed a criminal complaint against a Venezuelan, Henry Eduardo Chávez, for allegedly posing as a Puerto Rican to request a U.S. passport.
Though Chávez, 49, initially pleaded not guilty to the charges, he has since changed his mind and plans to plead guilty at a hearing in March, according to court records.