Considering all of the things that the government does, it’s only natural that the average person isn’t aware of all of its different branches. From the Office of Statistics to the US Board of Geographic Names, there are plenty of divisions of the federal government that most folks just don’t care about.
ICE is certainly not one of them. In recent years, the agency has been a political lightning rod. Usually, it’s because people’s opposing opinions on the morality of the agency’s law enforcement actions. But in one case, ICE would be the center of attention for all the wrong reasons…
If you follow the news at all, you’ve probably heard a million things about US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, better known by its acronym “ICE.” Formed in 2003, the law enforcement agency is a part of the Department of Homeland Security formed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
According to their website, “ICE’s mission is to protect America from the cross-border crime and illegal immigration that threaten national security and public safety.” What that means in practical terms is trying to find and deport undocumented immigrants and combating transnational criminal organizations…
Spotlight On Immigration
The agency has been in the national spotlight recently because, since President Trump won the election, he’s made the deportation of undocumented immigrants a top priority. The ranks of ICE increased, their tactics and policies became more aggressive and the number of ICE arrests increased dramatically.
On One Hand…
Proponents of the change in ICE policies said they were doing a better job of protecting the US border and upholding the rule of law. They say that such actions are necessary to maintain the sovereignty of the country and keep crime rates down…
On The Other Hand…
But critics of ICE painted a different picture. They said that the agency was engaging in human rights violations and pointed toward the detention centers built for the children ICE separated from their families and practices like arresting immigrants as they show up for meetings with immigration officials as part of the legal immigration process.
Steeped In Controversy
It’s safe to say that ICE was one of the most controversial branches of government. But regardless of your feelings about the morality of the agency as a whole, almost everyone would agree that the ICE employees should follow the law in the execution of their duties. Unfortunately, not every one of them did…
Beyond the critiques about the official actions of ICE, there have been a number of reported incidents of various kinds of illegal abuse against immigrants at the hands of individual ICE officials. One of the biggest offenders was a high ranking ICE official who used his position to callously satisfy his own desires.
Since The Start
Raphael Sanchez had been an ICE employee since just after the agency was formed. He worked as an attorney for the agency. The 44-year-old had climbed its ranks for 17 years until he was the chief legal counsel for ICE in all deportation and asylum cases throughout Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, and was earning a comfortable six-figure salary for doing it…
I Need More
But that was apparently not enough for Sanchez. Using his privileged access to otherwise confidential agency information, he put together a scheme that would allow him to prey upon the vulnerable people in the process of removal proceedings to fatten his pockets.
Between 2013 and 2017, Sanchez combed through government databases and immigration files for the personal information of potential victims, zeroing in on the juiciest targets: people who wouldn’t realize or be able to report identity theft because they had no legal status in the US…
With those people’s Social Security numbers, birthdays and addresses, Sanchez opened bank accounts and credit cards in his victim’s names. He did that by falsifying documents like public utility accounts for proof of residence and made counterfeit IDs, using his own photo for the men and the picture of a murder victim for the women. He was even so bold as to claim some of his victims as dependent family members on tax forms to get extra deductions from the IRS.
Sanchez also created sham businesses for funneling money from the fraudulent credit cards and bank accounts into his own pockets, an intricate and elaborate paper trail, defrauding his immigrant victims as well as major financial institutions, including American Express, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase out of over $190,000…
“Meanwhile, many of the Victim Aliens left the United States unaware of the debts that Sanchez incurred in their names and that these substantial balances were due, owing, and growing,” said a later court filing made by the Justice Department.
The identity theft was stopped when an ICE audit flagged suspicious activity on one of Sanchez’s accounts, launching an internal investigation. A short time later, Sanchez was arrested and charged in federal court with wire fraud and aggravated identity theft…
“We’ve been troubled about this situation particularly because it wasn’t the first time that there was wrongdoing in [the Seattle Office],” said Jorge Baron, executive director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. The group represented Ignacio Torres who was deported after Jonathan Love, another Seattle ICE attorney, falsified government documents, a charge to which Love pleaded guilty.
What Else Is There?
Baron claimed that his clients deportation case was not unique, which made him wonder whether there were other victims, “Even before the whole Sanchez episode came to light.” Now the fact that “the head of the office was committing fraud himself,” it created grave concerns about the office’s integrity…
It Was My Childhood
Sanchez pleaded guilty to two felonies against him, with his lawyer saying that his massive theft scheme wasn’t motivated by greed. With a net worth of over $700,000, he wasn’t hurting for money in any way. Rather, his lawyer said, he stole out of “self-hatred” and “trauma” from a brutal upbringing under an alcoholic and physically abusive father.
Prosecutors acknowledged Sanchez’s difficult childhood and credited him for taking responsibility once he was caught but the DOJ trial attorney Jessica Harvey argued that Sanchez’s actions were a “profane and profound violation of the trust of the American public,” exploiting the vulnerable simply “to line his pockets.”…
Ultimately, Sanchez was sentenced to four years in prison and ordered to pay over $190,000 in restitution for what he’d done. He also resigned from ICE and was disbarred. Despite the fact that he was to repay the money he’d stolen, it’s impossible to tell the full impact his misdeeds had on his victims, especially considering many of them have since been deported, perhaps wrongfully so.
… And Justice For All
While reasonable people can disagree on the lawful actions of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency or even the agency’s very existence, we must all agree that those in power, especially those in law enforcement, must conduct themselves ethically and be held accountable when they don’t. If the law does not apply equally to all people, can we call it justice?