This is just so sad. People can be so evil. I am sure this is not an isolated event.
An Agent, a Green Card, and a Demand for Sex
NEW YORK TIMES
By NINA BERNSTEIN
Published: March 21, 2008
No problems so far, the immigration agent told the American citizenand his 22-year-old Colombian wife at her green card interview inDecember. After he stapled one of their wedding photos to herapplication for legal permanent residency, he had just one morequestion: What was her cellphone number?
Isaac R. Baichu, 46, an adjudicator for the United States Citizenshipand Immigration Services, was arrested after he met with a green cardapplicant at the Flagship Restaurant, a diner in Queens. He is chargedwith coercing oral sex from her.The calls from the agent started three days later. He hinted, shesaid, at his power to derail her life and deport her relatives,alluding to a brush she had with the law before her marriage.
He summoned her to a private meeting. And at noon on Dec. 21, in a parkedcar on Queens Boulevard, he named his price — not realizing that shewas recording everything on the cellphone in her purse."I want sex," he said on the recording. "One or two times. That's all. You get your green card. You won't have to see me anymore."She reluctantly agreed to a future meeting. But when she tried toleave his car, he demanded oral sex "now," to "know that you'reserious." And despite her protests, she said, he got his way.The 16-minute recording, which the woman first took to The New YorkTimes and then to the Queens district attorney, suggests the vastpower of low-level immigration law enforcers, and a growingdesperation on the part of immigrants seeking legal status. Theaftermath, which included the arrest of an immigration agent lastweek, underscores the difficulty and danger of making a complaint,even in the rare case when abuse of power may have been caught ontape.
No one knows how widespread sexual blackmail is, but the case echoesother instances of sexual coercion that have surfaced in recent years,including agents criminally charged in Atlanta, Miami and Santa Ana,Calif. And it raises broader questions about the system'svulnerability to corruption at a time when millions of noncitizenslive in a kind of legal no-man's land, increasingly fearful of seekingthe law's protection.
The agent arrested last week, Isaac R. Baichu, 46, himself animmigrant from Guyana, handled some 8,000 green card applicationsduring his three years as an adjudicator in the Garden City, N.Y.,office of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, part ofthe federal Department of Homeland Security. He pleaded not guilty tofelony and misdemeanor charges of coercing the young woman to performoral sex, and of promising to help her secure immigration papers inexchange for further sexual favors. If convicted, he will face up toseven years in prison.His agency has suspended him with pay, and the inspector general ofHomeland Security is reviewing his other cases, a spokesman saidWednesday. Prosecutors, who say they recorded a meeting between Mr.Baichu and the woman on March 11 at which he made similar demands forsex, urge any other victims to come forward.
Money, not sex, is the more common currency of corruption inimmigration, but according to Congressional testimony in 2006 byMichael Maxwell, former director of the agency's internalinvestigations, more than 3,000 backlogged complaints of employeemisconduct had gone uninvestigated for lack of staff, including 528involving criminal allegations.The agency says it has tripled its investigative staff since then, andcounts only 165 serious complaints pending. But it stopped posting ane-mail address and phone number for such complaints last year, saidJan Lane, chief of security and integrity, because it lacks the staffto cull the thousands of mostly irrelevant messages that resulted.
Immigrants, she advised, should report wrongdoing to any lawenforcement agency they trust.The young woman in Queens, whose name is being withheld because theauthorities consider her the victim of a sex crime, did not even tellher husband what had happened. Two weeks after the meeting in the car,finding no way to make a confidential complaint to the immigrationagency and afraid to go to the police, she and two older femalerelatives took the recording to The Times.
Reasons to WorryA slim, shy woman who looks like a teenager, she said she had spentrecent months baby-sitting for relatives in Queens, crying over thedeaths of her two brothers back in Cali, Colombia, and longing for theright stamp in her passport — one that would let her return to theUnited States if she visited her family.She came to the United States on a tourist visa in 2004 andoverstayed. When she married an American citizen a year ago, the lawallowed her to apply to "adjust" her illegal status. But unless hergreen card application was approved, she could not visit her parentsor her brothers' graves and then legally re-enter the United States.And if her application was denied, she would face deportation.
She had another reason to be fearful, and not only for herself. About15 months ago, she said, an acquaintance hired her and two femalerelatives in New York to carry $12,000 in cash to the bank. The threewomen, all living in the country illegally, were arrested on thestreet by customs officers apparently acting on a tip in amoney-laundering investigation. After determining that the women hadno useful information, the officers released them.But the closed investigation file had showed up in the computer whenshe applied for a green card, Mr. Baichu told her in December; untilhe obtained the file and dealt with it, her application would not beapproved. If she defied him, she feared, he could summon immigrationenforcement agents to take her relatives to detention.
So instead of calling the police, she turned on the video recorder inher cellphone, put the phone in her purse and walked to meet theagent. Two family members said they watched anxiously from theirparked car as she disappeared behind the tinted windows of his redLexus."We were worried that the guy would take off, take her away and dosomething to her," the woman's widowed sister-in-law said in Spanish.
As the recorder captured the agent's words and a lilting Guyaneseaccent, he laid out his terms in an easy, almost paternal style. Hewould not ask too much, he said: sex "once or twice," visits to hishome in the Bronx, perhaps a link to other Colombians who needed hishelp with their immigration problems.
In shaky English, the woman expressed reluctance, and questioned howshe could be sure he would keep his word."If I do it, it's like very hard for me, because I have my husband,and I really fall in love with him," she said.
The agent insisted that she had to trust him. "I wouldn't ask you todo something for me if I can't do something for you, right?" he said,and reasoned, "Nobody going to help you for nothing," noting that shehad no money.
He described himself as the single father of a 10-year-old daughter,telling her, "I need love, too," and predicting, "You will get to likeme because I'm a nice guy." Repeatedly, she responded "O.K.," without conviction. At one point hethanked her for showing up, saying, "I know you feel very scared."Finally, she tried to leave. "Let me go because I tell my husband Icome home," she said. His reply, the recording shows, was a blunt demand for oral sex. "Right now? No!" she protested. "No, no, right now I can't."He insisted, cajoled, even empathized. "I came from a differentcountry, too," he said. "I got my green card just like you."Then, she said, he grabbed her. During the speechless minute thatfollows on the recording, she said she yielded to his demand out offear that he would use his authority against her.How Much Corruption?The charges against Mr. Baichu, who became a United States citizen in1991 and earns roughly $50,000 a year, appear to be part of a largerpattern, according to government records and interviews.
Mr. Maxwell, the immigration agency's former chief investigator, toldCongress in 2006 that internal corruption was "rampant," and thatemployees faced constant temptations to commit crime."It is only a small step from granting a discretionary waiver of aneligibility rule to asking for a favor or taking a bribe in exchangefor granting that waiver," he contended. "Once an employee learns hecan get away with low-level corruption and still advance up the ranks,he or she becomes more brazen."
Mr. Maxwell's own deputy, Lloyd W. Miner, 49, of Hyattsville, Md.,turned out to be an example. He was sentenced March 7 to a year inprison for inducing a 21-year-old Mongolian woman to stay in thecountry illegally, and harboring her in his house.Other cases include that of a 60-year-old immigration adjudicator inSanta Ana, Calif., who was charged with demanding sexual favors from a29-year-old Vietnamese woman in exchange for approving her citizenshipapplication. The agent, Eddie Romualdo Miranda, was acquitted of afelony sexual battery charge last August, but pleaded guilty tomisdemeanor battery and was sentenced to probation.
In Atlanta, another adjudicator, Kelvin R. Owens, was convicted in2005 of sexually assaulting a 45-year-old woman during her citizenshipinterview in the federal building, and sentenced to weekends in jailfor six months. And a Miami agent of Immigration and CustomsEnforcement responsible for transporting a Haitian woman to detentionis awaiting trial on charges that he took her to his home and rapedher.
"Despite our best efforts there are always people ready to use theirposition for personal gain or personal pleasure," said Chris Bentley,a spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Services. "Ourresponsibility is to ferret them out."When the Queens woman came to The Times with her recording on Jan. 3,she was afraid of retaliation from the agent, and uncertain aboutmaking a criminal complaint, though she had an appointment the nextday at the Queens district attorney's office.She followed through, however, and Carmencita Gutierrez, an assistantdistrict attorney, began monitoring phone calls between the agent andthe young woman, a spokesman said. When Mr. Baichu arranged to meetthe woman on March 11 at the Flagship Restaurant on Queens Boulevard,investigators were ready. In the conversation recorded there, according to the criminalcomplaint, Mr. Baichu told her he expected her to do "just like thelast time," and offered to take her to a garage or the bathroom of afriend's real estate business so she would be "more comfortable doingit" there.
Mr. Baichu was arrested as he emerged from the diner and headed to hiscar, wearing much gold and diamond jewelry, prosecutors said. Laterreleased on $15,000 bail, Mr. Baichu referred calls for comment to hislawyer, Sally Attia, who said he did not have authority to grant ordeny green card petitions without his supervisor's approval.
The young woman's ordeal is not over. Her husband overheard herspeaking about it to a cousin about a month ago, and she had to tellhim the whole story, she said."He was so mad at me, he left my house," she said, near tears. "Idon't know if he's going to come back."The green card has not come through. "I'm still hoping," she said.
Angelica Medaglia contributed reporting.