Posted on August 2, 2006

Investigation: U.S. Borders Perilously Porous

Lisa Myers, NBC, August 1, 2006

Federal investigators easily pass border checks using fake identification

Along the northern and southern borders, undercover federal investigators tried to enter the United States using fake driver’s licenses and fake birth certificates.

The results? Staggering. At all nine border crossings tested, investigators got in easily. Not a single border agent detected the phony IDs. In fact, at two crossings, agents didn’t even check any IDs at all.


In fact, this investigation by the Government Accountability Office is a follow-up to one three years ago in which three crossings were tested, and all the agents failed to detect the fake IDs.

At the time, we gave a Washington, D.C., bar manager a stack of IDs to see if he could pick out a fake license — almost exactly the same as the one government agents missed.

He did.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, says it’s appalling that nothing has been fixed.

“The Department of Homeland Security hasn’t made any progress in three years!” Grassley says.

We will not reveal the exact crossings tested this year, but they’re in a variety of states: California, Arizona, Texas, Washington, Michigan and New York.


The 9/11 commission and now DHS say the answer is to require passports for everyone crossing the border — even Americans.

For an illegal immigrant desperately seeking to work in New York City, getting a high-quality forged green card or Social Security card is almost as easy as buying a soft-shell taco, a Post investigation has found.

The well-organized underground market that churns out these fraudulent documents is surprisingly easy to penetrate — The Post was able to find a man who deals in the bogus cards and buy one in just under three hours.

After speaking with immigrant advocates and a few streetwise sources, this reporter arranged a face-to-face meeting in Queens with a 20-something Hispanic man known in the neighborhood as “Flaco” — the Spanish word for thin.

Soft-spoken, low key and simply dressed in a button-down shirt that covered the waistband of his jeans, Flaco didn’t appear to be threatening at all — surprising, considering that these sophisticated green-card mills are run by vicious Latin American gangs.

The groups carve up territory block by block and use bullets to deal with competitors who venture onto their lucrative turf.

Flaco led me across Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights, under a rumbling No. 7 train, keeping a few paces ahead of me. His eyes continually surveyed the block for cops, but he didn’t notice a Post photographer sitting in a nearby car.

We jetted past men heading into bars to watch the World Cup, and women who ran errands with their kids, popping in and out of the stores.

We spoke only in Spanish.

“I was told it would cost $110 for the green card and Social [Security card],” I said nervously.

“Sure, no problem,” Flaco answered.


Gesturing with his long, skinny arms, Flaco led me to a nearby photo-lab store run by an Asian couple. He motioned to a small wooden stool partially behind the L-shaped glass counter.

He was so secure in his environment, he acted as if he owned the place.

A Latino photo-lab worker jumped to attention and trained an expensive digital camera on me. The Asian couple tended to other customers, minding their business.

“Look at the flag,” the Latino barked, as he gestured to a small American flag wedged into the wall.

After handing the Asian woman $6 for the photo, Flaco whipped out a small pink sheet of paper and told me to write my name, date of birth and country of origin.


“Come back in an hour,” Flaco said as he ushered me out of the store. “Wait for me outside the shopping center, not inside, because they have cameras.”


My fake green card looked a lot more real than I had been expecting.

“So I could get a job with this?” I asked.

“Of course,” Flaco answered, eager to move on to his next customer.

The sale of these fraudulent cards is a cottage industry that rakes in millions a year — but no one knows the number of green cards sold daily here. Based on the quality of the work and low cost, from $75 to $120, it appears certain the industry is flourishing.

Immigration experts who reviewed my fake green card agreed the document looks authentic — but said that upon closer examination, slight flaws became obvious. “I would say a person that does not deal with these green cards will take this as a genuine one,” said Maria Delgado, who has seen hundreds of green cards at the Immigration Center at the St. Francis of Assisi Church in Midtown. “A potential employer is not familiar with green cards — and besides, they need the workers, so they won’t really question the legitimacy of the cards.”