It is easy for an illegal immigrant—or a terrorist—to get false documents in New York. The New York Sun did it in about an hour this week, just three days after President Bush promised to tackle document fraud.
Our fake green card cost $100. Roosevelt Avenue in Queens is an open market for the manufacture of Social Security papers and driver’s licenses, as well as the valuable green cards that certify permanent resident status.
Despite federal and local law enforcement pledges of investigations, including a sweep earlier this week of the operation where the reporter purchased the card, business is booming.
“Roosevelt Avenue is like the mecca for fake documents,” a state Assemblyman who represents the district, Jose Peralta, said. “If anybody comes through New York City and they ask, ‘Where can I get a false document?’ the no. 1 answer is going to be Roosevelt Avenue. It’s the place, it’s the spot.”
Indeed, it’s an international market: Local dealers said most of their clients are immigrants from Latin America, but also include Africans, Haitians and Europeans, and even Americans. Customers are not only immigrants to New York, but travel to Roosevelt Avenue from far beyond the five boroughs: “I have clients from Boston, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Virginia,” a young Mexican seller said last week. “Kids of 16 even come to buy IDs to enter the discotheques.”
Mr. Peralta attributes the vitality of the strip to a lack of federal, state, and city enforcement. In the 1980s and 1990s, he said, more attention was given by the Queens district attorney’s office and federal authorities. When it waned, Mr. Peralta said, “It took on a life on its own. Once those entities stopped investigating, it developed into the lifeline of fraudulent documents.”
“You can put some out of business, but others will just spring up,” the president of the National Border Patrol Council, representing more than 10,000 border patrol agents, T.J. Bonner, said. “As long as there’s a demand for these documents and the documents continue to be accepted, people will be out there supplying.”
Employers are not required to verify the validity of immigration documents presented by a prospective employee. Even if an employer chooses to try, Mr. Bonner said, “It’s often impossible to differentiate between the good documents and the bad documents.”
The dealer, Juan, lingering next to the taco stand on Roosevelt Avenue, had an approachable air despite a tear-shaped tattoo under his eye and multiple tongue piercings. When a reporter from The New York Sun crossed his path he sprang into action, asking in a whisper, “documentos?”
A new permanent residency card with a special hologram, Juan said, would cost $100 and would be ready within an hour. An older version that would expire within the year would run $80. Other documents were also available: passports, licenses, etc.
Juan sized up the reporter, who was speaking in a Portuguese-accented Spanish, as a Brazilian immigrant. When she told him she was frightened of the police, he reassured her by saying that many other Brazilians purchase and renew fake green cards from him at the spot he regularly occupies on Roosevelt Avenue. The police, he added, were nothing to worry about. The document was a flawless replica of the real thing, he said.