It May Not Be Enough.

Immigration-Fraud-ROHOne of the issues that is sure to remain at the top of political discussions through the 2016 elections and beyond is that of immigration.

Our position has remained fairly consistent on immigration in that we are against illegal immigrants in the country. In addition, if an individual or company knowingly hires an illegal immigrant, they too should pay a price for aiding an illegal action.

With that in mind, we were gobsmacked by an article on Courthouse describing the alleged actions of Raul Oropeza Lopez, 47, and his wife Ana Maria Oropeza, 41, both of Delano, California.

In a complaint put forth by prosecutors, the government lays out accusations of a scheme that netted Lopez and Oropeza over $1.8 million dollars over from 2008 through 2014.

Lopez worked as a contractor for an employment agency for workers in the “grape country” of California. Lopez would fraudulently obtain Social Security numbers and employment ID’s from people who were legally allowed to work in the United States, but were out of the country. In some cases, the information was “loaned” in return for favors granted to the individual. In other cases, it is alleged that Lopez simply stole the ID’s of people without their knowledge.

The workers Lopez hired were then sent out into the workplace and fields for all intents and purposes looking as if they were legal workers.

At the end of the growing seasons, the workers were sent on their merry way while Lopez and Oropeza filed unemployment claims with the government for the workers who were illegally employed to begin with. Lopez and his wife had the money sent to different locations, post office boxes, etc., which they they collected and pocketed themselves. They also set up fake bank accounts using the names and information of the “employees” which allowed them to control the checks mailed from California’s Unemployment Division. When California went to electronic funds transfers to pay unemployment benefits, the feds say Lopez and Oropeza withdrew the money from the accounts via an ATM and then deposited the money in their own accounts.

The complaint states the result:

Over the course of the conspiracy and scheme to defraud, the defendants submitted more than 520 fraudulent claims using the identities of over 70 individuals. From on or about January 1, 2008 through November 30, 2014, the defendants fraudulently collected UI benefits in excess of $1.8 million. In some cases, the fraudulently-obtained benefits were shared with the individuals who lent their personal identities to defendants. The defendants typically did not share any of the UI benefits with the individuals who actually performed the work responsible for earning the wages.

According to Courthouse News, if convicted, Lopez and Oropeza face a maximum of $250,000 and 20 years in jail for each of the 10 counts against them. That’s $2.5 million dollars and 200 years in the slammer.

It may not be enough.

We hate the idea that people cross the border and into the country illegally. At the same time, we hate people that take advantage of those illegal immigrants who don’t know the full extent of the US employment situation. To think that Lopez and his wife stole the benefits of other people’s work is infuriating. At the same time, the people that “loaned” their identities and legal information for this scheme to take place need to face a consequence as well. If they were here on work visas or something like that, they need to be deported. If they are citizens, they need to go to jail.

Then – maybe then – the restitution for the fraud and moral crimes committed will be paid in full.

The complaint:

5 Responses to “It May Not Be Enough.”

  1. Charles Hinton says:

    I am certainly glad there are no legal people in the United States committing crimes.

    By the way – do all you people know that if your grandparents came here before 1923 they did not come here “legally”?

    • AAfterwit says:

      Mr. Hinton,

      Thanks for the comment.

      I am not sure of your point in saying “I am certainly glad there are no legal people in the United States committing crimes.” First, it appears that the “ringleaders” of this enterprise are US citizens. Secondly, your statement is a bit of a non-sequitur in that it seems to saying that if other people are doing crimes, we should just ignore crimes altogether. Is that really what you mean? If that’s the case, Satellite Beach should shut down it’s largest expenditure – the Satellite Beach Police Department. I know you don’t want that, so I am missing your point.

      Secondly, I am assuming that your statement that before 1923, no one came here “legally” alludes to certain immigration laws passed in that time. Once again, I am not sure of your point as if there were no laws controlling immigration, the act of immigration prior to that was legal in and of itself.

      It seems that you missed the point of the post altogether. First, we are against the idea of illegal immigrants using or stealing the legal ID’s of people. Secondly, we are against people with legal ID’s allowing people to “borrow” or “barter” for those ID’s in what is essentially aiding a crime. Thirdly, we are very much against the idea that someone used the labor of the illegal immigrants to make money off of the unemployment benefits meant for the people who had actually done the work in the first place. Even taking away the immigration status of the workers, what Lopez and Oropeza did crossed a very bright line between what is legal and illegal and what is moral and immoral.

      Perhaps you don’t see it that way and only think that we are picking on people because of their status as being in the country legally or illegally. We aren’t.

      As we said, this enterprise goes way beyond the law itself and somehow the penalties just don’t seem to be enough.

      A. Afterwit.

  2. Charles Hinton says:

    Mr A Afterwit – I acknowledge that I was wrong in the context of your essay. You did not identify Mr Lopez as being in the country illegally but only as being a party to a massive fraud upon the workers that he and others contracted. I can only assume that God is not done with me yet and I will try to do better.”

    However there are other issues from your essay that I would like to discuss.. You lavishly use the word “Illegal”.

    The greatness of the United States comes from the fact that we are a nation of immigrants. We were peopled by the citizens of other nations that were the bravest, most adventurous, and the hardest working of the nations from which they came. It takes a brave person to leave the security (or the insecurity) of their home and go to a strange place where they do not speak the language. We got the best people of the other nations, and that’s what makes us great. And from time to time we need to update the gene pool.

    Although no one has the guts to overtly propose it yet, in the hearts of many they would like to chisel off the words on the Statue of Liberty.

    “Inscription on the Statue of Liberty”
    Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
    Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
    Author: Emma Lazarus

    Mr Railton’s article below explains why today’s undocumented immigrants are neither legal or illegal better than I could.

    By Ben Railton Published November 20, 2014,

    I guarantee you’ll hear the phrase “My ancestors came here legally” in the aftermath of President Obama’s immigration address. It’s almost impossible to find any conversation about immigration—between elected officials, pundits, online commenters—in which at least one participant doesn’t use the phrase. It’s an understandable position, through which the speaker can both defend his or her family history and critique current illegal immigrants who choose to do things differently. It helps deflect charges of hypocrisy (since most Americans are descended from immigrants). It’s hard to argue with. And it’s also, in nearly every case, entirely inaccurate.
    Prior to 1875’s Page Act and 1882’s Chinese Exclusion Act, there were no national immigration laws. None. There were laws related to naturalization and citizenship, to how vessels reported their passengers, to banning the slave trade. Once New York’s Castle Garden Immigration Station opened in 1855, arrivals there reported names and origins before entering the U.S. But for all pre-1875 immigrants, no laws applied to their arrival. They weren’t legal or illegal; they were just immigrants.

    Moreover, those two laws and their extensions affected only very specific immigrant communities: suspected prostitutes and criminals (the Page Act); Chinese arrivals (the Exclusion Act); immigrants from a few other Asian nations (the extensions). So if your ancestors came before the 1920s and weren’t prostitutes, criminals, or from one of those Asian nations, they remained unaffected by any laws, and so were still neither legal nor illegal. This might seem like a semantic distinction, but it’s much more; the phrase “My ancestors came here legally” implies that they “chose to follow the law,” yet none of these unaffected immigrants had to make any such choice, nor had any laws to follow.

    The 1892 opening of Ellis Island didn’t change these fundamental realities. Ellis arrivals had to wait in line and answer a list of questions, and could be quarantined if they had a communicable disease or were visibly insane. But if they weren’t in those aforementioned few illegal categories, they still weren’t affected by any law, made no choice of how to immigrate. Moreover, many arrivals during this period came not through Ellis but across the borders, which were unpatrolled and open.

    Only with the 1920s Quota Acts did Congress establish national immigration laws encompassing most arrivals. But those acts were overtly discriminatory, extending the Exclusion Act’s principles by categorizing arrivals by nationality and drastically limiting certain groups; South Carolina Senator Ellison Smith put it bluntly: “It seems to me the point as to this measure is that the time has arrived when we should shut the door.” Since immigrants had no control over their nationality, it’s difficult to argue that post-1920s arrivals “chose” to immigrate legally or illegally. And since the borders remained largely open and there were multiple entry points, it’s hard to say that any individual arrival was under the quota and thus legal or illegal.

    The 1965 Immigration Act ended national quotas, instituting preferences based on less overtly discriminatory categories such as family connections and educational/professional training. Subsequent laws (such as the 1986 IRCA) further adjusted national policy. But as the ubiquitous “my ancestors” phrase proves, current immigration debates aren’t just about present policies—they’re always informed by ideas about history, and specifically about legal and illegal immigration in our past. So it’s vitally important that we begin to use those terms accurately—to recognize that for so many of us, our ancestors were neither legal nor illegal immigrants. That they came in the same way contemporary undocumented immigrants do: by crossing a border.

    Ben Railton is an Associate Professor of English at Fitchburg State University and a member of the Scholars Strategy Network.

    • AAfterwit says:

      Mr. Hinton,

      Thank you again for your comment.

      I am not sure where to begin but shall start with your assertion that “we are a nation of immigrants.” I understand the sentiment, but technically that is false. If we were a “nation of immigrants,’ the people – all of the people – in the US would have citizenships in other countries and then come to this country. It is a minor point, but one that should be recognized. We have a long history of accepting immigrants into the country and most of the people here now are descendants of immigrants, but they are not immigrants themselves. I accept the idea, but reject the imprecise nature of the statement.

      Secondly, you make the statement “although no one has the guts to overtly propose it yet, in the hearts of many they would like to chisel off the words on the Statue of Liberty.” I have no idea where that came from as it nothing I have ever heard in my life. I assume that there are xenophobes in the United States just as there are in any other country, but historically and even now, we have been a nation that is accepting people wanting to come to this country for any number of reasons, including the ones you list.

      That being said, the Railton article is troubling on several fronts. First, he makes this assertion: “The 1892 opening of Ellis Island didn’t change these fundamental realities. Ellis arrivals had to wait in line and answer a list of questions, and could be quarantined if they had a communicable disease or were visibly insane. But if they weren’t in those aforementioned few illegal categories, they still weren’t affected by any law, made no choice of how to immigrate.”

      Railton’s statement is factually false. In 1875, the Paige Act made it illegal for prostitutes and people convicted of crimes in their home countries to immigrate into the United States. The Immigration Act of 1882 banned entry into the United States for “convicts (except those convicted of political offenses), lunatics, idiots and persons likely to become public charges.”

      The Immigration Act of 1891 adds more people who cannot enter the country. In addition, the Act creates the “Bureau of Immigration” which not only monitors people entering the country, but deports those who entered the country illegally. The Act also created criminal penalties for those caught in the US contrary to the US immigration laws. For over six generations, the laws of the United States have listed and defined what is legal and illegal when it comes to immigration.

      Therefore when Railton writes about Ellis Island and the “aforementioned few illegal categories,” he is factually wrong. In addition to being medically screened for communicable diseases, potential immigrants at Ellis Island were asked a list of 29 questions – any one of which could result in the person being denied entry into the US. Those questions were:

    • What is your name?
      How old are you?
      Are you male or female?
      Are you married or single?
      What is your occupation?
      Are you able to read and write?
      What country are you from?
      What is your race?
      What is the name and address of a relative from your native country?
      What is your final destination in America?
      Who paid for your passage?
      How much money do you have with you?
      Have you been to America before?
      Are you meeting a relative here in America? Who?
      Have you been in a prison, almshouse, or institution for care of the insane?
      Are you a polygamist? Are you an anarchist?
      Are you coming to America for a job? Where will you work?
      What is the condition of your health?
      Are you deformed or crippled?
      How tall are you?
      What color are your eyes/hair?
      Do you have any identifying marks? (scars, birthmarks, tattoos)
      Where were you born? (list country and city)
      Who was the first President of America?
      What are the colors of our flag?
      How many stripes are on our flag? How many stars?
      What is the 4th of July?
      What is the Constitution?
      What are the three branches in our government?
      Which President freed the slaves?
      Can you name the 13 original Colonies?
      Who signs bills into law?
      Who is the current President of the United States?
      What is America?s national anthem called?
    • As you can see, the borders to the US at that time were not “wide open” or without regulation as Railton would have you believe. Furthermore, his assertion that there was no “legal or illegal” immigrants defies not only the historical record, but one of the basis of law itself which is “that which is not illegal by law, is legal.”

      To show the fallacy of Railton’s thinking, imagine going back in time to the 1880’s and riding a horse down what is now Harbor City Boulevard / Route 1. There were no laws against riding a horse on that road nor were there laws controlling horse riding on the road. Today, of course, there are laws against riding a horse down the middle of that street. Railton would have you believe that riding the horse today could not be illegal today because at one point in time, there was no law making riding of the horse legal or illegal. In addition, no one can claim that 120 years ago someone riding down what is now Route 1 was doing so in a manner that was not illegal and therefore legal.

      Railton’s argument just doesn’t work.

      People who cross the borders of the United States without proper vetting or documentation are by definition “illegal aliens.” I won’t apologize for using a correct term.

      Finally, I went to school with actual immigrants (first generation) and had a roommate in college that was the son of immigrants. I have worked with, employed and been friends with immigrants and their descendents. I am not against immigration or immigrants in the least. However, the people who come to the country and become citizens pay a high costs – upwards of $30,000 – have to look at the people who come here illegally and wonder why they should paying for the privilege of being here when others are stealing it. Maybe the question that has to be asked is “what kind of person is one who comes to the US and whose first act is to break the laws of the US?”

      America is a great country whose immigration policies are very lax and arguably the least restrictive of any country in the world. We should (and do) welcome those who wish to come here legally. Those who wish to come here illegally should face the consequences of their actions.

      A. Afterwit.

  • Lee says:

    Great response!!! Thank you!

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