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Cablegate: Fraud Summary - Colombia

DE RUEHBO #3128/01 2731916
R 301915Z SEP 09



E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: 09 BOGOTA 001215

1. This country fraud summary from the Bogota Fraud Prevention Unit
(FPU) covers the period from February 2009 to August 2009.


A. Country Conditions


2. Despite improving security and positive, but slower economic
growth in Colombia during 2009, violence and unemployment remain
serious "push factors" for legal and illegal migration. 3.1
million internally displaced persons have registered with the GOC
since 1995, including more than 281,000 new displacements in 2009.
Still, GOC steps to improve the human rights and security situation
have showed significant results. The number of displacements
declined nearly 12 percent between 2007 and 2008 after increasing
in each of the three previous years. GOC statistics indicate that
2009 continued the trend of decreasing violence and increasing
stability in Colombia. Kidnappings and acts of terrorism have been
cut by approximately 80 percent since 2002. To date, the GOC has
extradited 149 criminals and terrorists to the U.S.in 2009, which
is in line with the 2008 rate of extraditions.

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3. In terms of economic conditions, 2008 gross domestic product
growth registered at 2.5 percent, down from 7.5 percent growth in
2007. Turmoil in the economies of Colombia's two largest trading
partners, the United States and Venezuela, has adversely affected
the outlook for 2009, with economic growth expected to be between 0
and 1.5 percent. The average unemployment rate rose to 12.6
percent by July 2009, up from 11.2 percent in 2008. The poverty
rate decreased to 46 percent in 2008 -- down from 57 percent in
2002. Although the monthly minimum wage rose again in 2009, is it
still equivalent to only about USD$250 per month, less than what
most workers feel is necessary to meet basic household needs.
Despite improving stability and a relatively stable economy,
Colombia remained the second largest source country for affirmed
asylum claims in the United States in 2008, after the People's
Republic of China, as it has been in most recent years.

4. "Pull factors" include the presence of large Colombian immigrant
communities in Florida, New Jersey, and New York. According to
Colombia's Central Bank, Colombians abroad sent an estimated USD
4.8 billion in remittances to Colombia in 2008, -- with 36 percent
of that amount originating from the US -- representing 3.3 percent
of the country's gross domestic product. However, due to the
global economic crisis, remittances have fallen during 2009 and
this drop is expected to affect household spending.

5. Colombia continues to be a high-fraud country in terms of both
the volume and the sophistication of fraudulent documents submitted
by visa and passport applicants. Despite efforts by the Government
of Colombia to crack down on large-scale criminal operations,
Colombia remains one of the top producers of counterfeit U.S.
currency. While some counterfeiting activity has moved to Peru,
the criminal rings based in Cali are still generally acknowledged
as being the most adept in Colombia.


B. NIV Fraud


6. Due to the high volume of NIV applicants at Embassy Bogota, the
majority of the day-to-day work of the FPU involves the NIV Unit.
The volume of NIV fraud is extremely high. Colombians seeking to
travel to the United States for business or pleasure continue to
believe that their chances of securing a visa are best if they can
demonstrate three factors: a legally binding relationship, a
professional, highly-paid job, and high bank balances. Even fully

BOGOTA 00003128 002 OF 008

qualified applicants will frequently present fraudulent bank
statements showing inflated balances. In an attempt to create a
strong case, fraud perpetrators often present fraudulent marriage
and birth certificates, employment letters, bank statements, and
tax documents in support of their applications. Applicants also
frequently obtain new Colombian passports in an attempt to conceal
previous overstays in the United States. Applicants often are not
forthcoming about the existence of relatives in the United States.

7. B1/B2 applications remain the overwhelming majority of post's
workload, consisting of 90 percent of adjudications in the
reporting period. Although Colombia has not been as severely
impacted by the global economic crisis as many other countries, the
Colombian economy nevertheless contracted and unemployment rose
during 2009. However, unlike most other posts worldwide, Bogota
has not seen a corresponding decrease in NIV volume. Post's NIV
volume is on track to rise by 2.1 percent in FY2009. Over the next
reporting period, Post will attempt to look into possible reasons
for why volume did not decrease in Colombia as it has in many other
countries affected by the worldwide economic recession and whether
there are fraud trends involved in this phenomenon.

8. Post's most recent validation study on B1/B2 visas (see reftel)
showed that nearly half (44 percent) of the visa holders surveyed
in the study did not travel. Post hypothesizes three reasons for
the high number of visa-holders who do not travel: having a U.S.
visa is an important status symbol in Colombia; Colombian visa
applicants believe that reapplying for a visa before the prior visa
expires facilitates visa-issuance; and the historical inclination
of Colombians to hold a U.S. visa as an alternative to remaining in
Colombia in case the political or economic situation deteriorates.
The validation study did not show a high overstay rate, in contrast
to anecdotal evidence from the visa line and with the high number
of Colombians turned around at the POE and deported from the U.S.
Post's recent analysis of I-275s received between August 2007 and
May 2009 indicates that most of post's issuances which get turned
around have misused their visa on a prior trip, either by
overstaying a prior admission or violating status, most commonly by
working without permission.

9. The J visa program continues to be a popular program in
Colombia. However, this category has also been affected by the
economic downturn in the U.S. Post adjudicated 27.7 percent fewer
J1 cases in this reporting period than in the same period in 2008.
It is important to note that besides the downturn in the U.S.
economy, some Colombian J1 participants were affected by the Aspect
Foundation controversy, which may affect the future popularity of
J1 programs. To date, FPU has not seen significant fraud in the J1

10. Applicants applying as a group continue to be an area of major
concern. The ARSO-I currently has 8 pending investigations that
involve groups. Groups consist of anywhere from a three-person
P-visa band to a group of more than 80 B1/B2 cattle ranchers. Post
sees two major patterns: legitimate groups in which either the
group itself or the petition will include members who have never
been affiliated with the group and are not familiar with the actual
purpose of travel, or groups that have been constituted for the
explicit purpose of obtaining a visa and contain few, if any,
legitimate members. FPU and the interviewing officers ferret out
extra members through a variety of methods, including targeted
interviews, fraud investigations, and examining past travel
history. FPU screens all groups applying at post prior to their
appointment and verifies group travel with passport checks, ADIS
checks and targeted follow-up interviews, when appropriate. Post
has adjusted and strengthened its group procedures and also
provided group training to officers, and as a result, more group
members that tried to previously apply individually are now
completing the group procedure as required.

11. Employment-based NIV fraud continues to be a concern,
especially for the potential for using these visas for money
laundering activities, as a means to simply move to the U.S., or to
work in marginal jobs not as intended by the FAM. Fraud in
petition-based and E categories most often involves falsifying or
exaggerating educational and professional credentials, as well as a
few cases where it appears companies have been created solely for

BOGOTA 00003128 003 OF 008

immigration or money laundering purposes. Though Bogota is not a
high volume H, L, & E processing post, due to the concerns of
these visa categories being manipulated for nefarious purposes, a
high percentage of these cases are referred to FPU for

12. Before the recent change to the 9 FAM 41.58, there was a
continued upswing in fraud related to religious visa applications.
On several occasions, applications had been submitted for work with
denominations that the Consular Section could not confirm as
legitimate religious entities, and religious visa applicants often
misrepresented their qualifications and ties to the organization.
Now that this category is petition-based, post has seen both a
decrease in the number of cases and a lower refusal rate: post
adjudicated 48 R visa applicants during the reporting period, with
a refusal rate of 37.5 percent, compared to 195 applicants and a
58.5 percent refusal rate for the previous reporting period.

13. FPU and the NIV Unit continue to encounter "imposter" and
improperly presented relationship cases, usually involving minor
children. Often they are cases of individuals - whether family
members or strangers - posing as "parents" applying for their
"child's" NIV. In most cases, the biological parent is living
without status in the U.S. and the supposed parent or guardian
intends to take the child to the U.S. to be reunited with the
biological parent. As the NIV Unit has learned better how to
identify these scenarios, FPU has noticed that such cases now tend
to include an easily-obtained, genuine legal document purporting to
show that the supposed parent or guardian has either adopted or
gained custody of the child. However, the document merely grants
limited custodial power. Such authority can be easily transferred
by a parent (either from within Colombia or from another country)
without losing any normal parental rights. FPU's close working
relationship with Colombian Family Welfare Institute (Bienestar de
la Familia) has facilitated identifying these improperly presented
relationships. Facial recognition software, the grouping function
in the NIV program, as well as the verification of birth
certificates have limited the number of these cases during the
reporting period.

14. FPU and the NIV Unit uncovered two apparently unrelated cases
of minor children being presented under new, false identities in
the reporting period. In each case, the child presented a genuine
Colombian passport and birth certificate under the new identity
which had been fraudulently obtained. Each child had previously
been refused under his presumably true identity. Post's ARSO-I is
currently investigating these cases and the individuals who
presented themselves as the parents of these children. Close
attention to the facial recognition results by the NIV Unit was
critical to the detection of these cases. These cases attest to
the ease by which genuine Colombian documents can be obtained

15. Post saw in the reporting period its first two cases of
applicants who have intentionally mutilated their fingerprints.
The prints showed exactly the same markings as example photos in
the Fraud Digest article on mutilated prints. Thanks to
information in CLASS, the FPU was able to determine that one
applicant, a male, was attempting to conceal illegal presence and
deportation. He claimed he suffered from severe dermatitis. We
suspect that the other applicant, a female, was attempting to
conceal illegal presence, but were not able to confirm that. She
claimed to have cut her hands working as a shrimp-peeler. Post
expects to see more such cases in the future and remains on the
look-out for fingerprint mutilation.


C. IV Fraud


16. Spousal and fiance(e) relationship fraud continues to be the
predominant types of fraud encountered by the IV Unit during the
reporting period. Fraudulent marital and spousal relationships are

BOGOTA 00003128 004 OF 008

often arranged by family or friends whose extended families come
from the same hometown in Colombia.

17. Internet relationships continue to grow in popularity. Marriage
brokers use the internet to facilitate the entire immigrant visa
process, from frequently asked questions to the documentation one
should submit to prove a legitimate romantic relationship. Most of
the marriage broker relationships appear to be real for
petitioners. However, based on several complaints from jilted
petitioners and extensive interviews, the trend continues to be
that a number of beneficiaries have pursued these relationships
solely to emigrate to the United States. The IV Unit continues to
uncover extremely high levels of fraud when couples claimed to have
met in internet chat rooms, but also had friends or family in

18. The IV Unit continues to see fraudulent entry stamps purchased
to conceal illegal entries or overstays in the United States. A
number of IV applicants in this reporting period attempted to
conceal prior arrests, drug trafficking activity, and previous
employment as prostitutes.

19. The IV Unit processes a limited number of employment-based
cases. The majority of these applicants are following-to-join
derivative beneficiaries. The IV Unit continues to find limited
marriage fraud and a few cases in which "fathers" were not the
biological parents of minor children.


D. DV Fraud


20. Colombians are not eligible as principal applicants for
Diversity Visas. The IV Unit did not detect any evidence of fraud
in the two Diversity Visa cases it processed during the reporting


E. ACS and U.S. Passport Fraud


21. The ACS Unit and FPU are especially sensitive to fraud in cases
involving child applicants for CRBA's and first time passports. In
many of these cases, ACS requests DNA tests from the AmCit parent
who subsequently never returns. Some of the fraud has been more
creative. In one case the mother presented an AmCit dad with a DNA
test result later proven to be fraudulent. Post has also seen an
increasing number of adult first time claimants who present little
more than a U.S. birth certificate. Although some of these
eventually were able to prove a valid claim to U.S. citizenship,
many of the applicants are never able to explain how they got to
Colombia with no passport of any kind, nor how they have lived here
all of their lives with no identification. In these cases, the
birth certificate is often legitimate, just not credible. For
example, in one case a woman claimed to have been born at home in
Texas. She left the U.S. for Colombia at age 6 and when she was
12, her uncle went to the local Texas registry and obtained a
delayed Texas birth certificate based only on his affidavit. She
presented no other proof of US residence. All of the above types
of cases are entered into PLOTS as appropriate.


F. Adoption Fraud


BOGOTA 00003128 005 OF 008

22. Colombia continues to be a popular country from which to adopt
children. The process runs smoothly for adoptive parents, as the
Colombian adoption process is transparent and straightforward. The
Consular Section maintains a good relationship with officials at
the Colombian Family Welfare Institute and, as a result, the
organization is very familiar with U.S. immigration procedures. To
date, the IV Unit has not discovered any adoption fraud on the part
of government officials and/or Colombian adoption agencies.


G. Use of DNA testing


23. The IV and ACS Units primarily use DNA testing to confirm
biological relationships between parents and children. Post had
used the panel physicians to collect samples and have had no cause
to question their process. No DNA tests have been conducted
subsequent to new Department guidance, and the new procedures are
being implemented for use in any subsequent DNA testing. Colombia
does not have any known special circumstances for DNA testing. The
most common type of biological relationship fraud involves a
"father" who legitimated a child several months or years after the
child was born. Some applicants fail to submit to suggested DNA
tests, including a number who subsequently notify the IV Unit that
the parent and child did not have a biological relationship. Both
the IV and ACS Units views DNA testing as an extremely useful fraud
deterrent, especially in light of concerns about birth


H. Asylum and Other DHS Benefit Fraud


24. The IV Unit carefully screens derivative spouse asylee cases
for indicators of marriage fraud due to differing U.S. and
Colombian definitions of the term "spouse" for immigration
purposes. For example, U.S. immigration law does not recognize
Colombian common-law marriages, or the "separation of bodies and
effects" as a basis for divorce. In addition, under U.S. law,
marriages by proxy are invalid for immigration purposes if the
asylee petitioner has not returned to Colombia to consummate the

25. During previous reporting periods, the IV Unit discovered large
numbers of following-to-join derivative spouses of asylees were
presenting fraudulent marriage certificates in connection with
their applications. As a result, FPU now confirms 100% of these
marriage certificates.

26. The IV Unit processed about 160 requests for transportation
letters for lost or stolen lawful permanent resident (LPR) cards
during the reporting period, an increase of nearly 60 percent over
the last reporting period. Many of the applicants had criminal
histories and/or questionable claims to U.S. residency. The IV
Unit also strongly suspects that some applicants who reported the
theft of their LPR cards after a several-week delay had in fact
sold their LPR cards.

--------------------------------------------- ---------------------

I. Alien Smuggling, Trafficking, Organized Crime, Terrorist Travel

--------------------------------------------- ---------------------

27. Colombia is the source of the majority of cocaine and heroin

BOGOTA 00003128 006 OF 008

entering the United States. The Department of State has designated
three Colombian illegally armed groups - two of which are heavily
involved in the drug trade - as international terrorist
organizations. A full-time "2C/3B" consular officer working out of
FPU is the primary investigator on all cases involving
narco-trafficking, money laundering, and/or terrorism. As a result
of many Colombians being involved for many years in
narco-trafficking and money laundering, and the long history of
political violence in Colombia, post sees an extraordinarily high
volume of cases with 2C and/or 3B ineligibilities. The 2C/3B
officer also ensures consular records reflect the status of cases
involving extradition (revocations, lookouts, etc.), as well as
cases involving high level politicians being investigated and often
tried for their ties to paramilitary groups. The 2C/3B officer
works closely with U.S. and Colombian law enforcement, intelligence
agencies, the political section and Department of Treasury
officials, and coordinates post's monthly Visas Viper Committee.

28. Colombia is primarily a source for illegal travel, yet the
country's multi-ethnic character and its proximity to other
countries used as transit points to the United States and Canada
make it an appealing alternative routing for smuggled and
trafficked persons. While mala fide travelers from neighboring
countries, e.g., Brazil, Ecuador, and Peru, continue to use
Colombia as a transit point for flights to the United States, their
numbers appear to have diminished. This is likely due to increased
document scrutiny at their departure airports and at Bogota's El
Dorado airport. Other visa-issuing missions in Bogota, especially
the Canadian and Mexican missions, report an increase in applicants
from Africa, China and the Indian subcontinent who cannot explain
credibly why they are in Bogota or how they arrived in Colombia.
Post has not yet seen an increase in third-country national (TCN)
applicants, but vigilantly monitors TCN numbers for changes and


J. DS Criminal Fraud Investigations


29. FPU refers cases that appear to involve organized fraud to the
Assistant Regional Security Investigator (ARSO-I), who determines
if and when or where a criminal element is present or if the case
merits further investigation. The ARSO-I program maintains a
robust investigative capability. Critical to the program's
historical success is the joint DS-ICE vetted Colombian law
enforcement team. This vetted team consists of investigators from
the Administrative Security Department (DAS). The GOC recently
announced that the DAS will be dissolved and all of its
investigative authorities will be transferred to various agencies
within the Colombian National Police (CNP). The dissolution of DAS
is due to its involvement in illegal domestic espionage of
Colombian political and business leaders, as well as critics of the

30. The ARSO-I program has fifteen investigations pending with the
vetted unit (four of the fifteen are joint DS/ICE investigations).
Post is pushing for a quick closure of these cases and/or immediate
transfer to the appropriate CNP agency. The CNP is assessing which
agency to assign investigations of document fraud and human
smuggling. Once a decision is made, Post will begin to
re-establish the investigative unit.

--------------------------------------------- -------------------

K. Host Country Passport, Identity Documents, and Civil Registry

--------------------------------------------- -------------------

31. Colombian documents are relatively easy to falsify or obtain
legitimately, especially marriage certificates, birth certificates,
and bank statements. Birth certificates present especially
difficult cases as a genuine birth certificate can be obtained for
a child at any point in the child's life if a "parent" presents the

BOGOTA 00003128 007 OF 008

child as his or her own with the testimony of two witnesses. This
is a completely legal means of obtaining a birth certificate, but
highly vulnerable to abuse. FPU is vigilant to fraud indicators
such as home births, delayed registration of the birth and
registration with witnesses, rather than medical documentation.
Corrupt notary officials - some in coordination with criminal fraud
rings - have also been known to accept payment to issue authentic
marriage and birth certificates using fake personal data. Falsely
obtained birth certificates can then be used as a base document to
obtain genuine passports and national IDs.

32. The GOC has made efforts recently to incorporate anti-fraud
security features in newly issued documents, e.g., the national
identity card ("cedula") and to remove from circulation the
earlier, more easily falsifiable versions.

33. The Colombian passport is still a laminate document that is not
secure - and the previous lack of a central tracking database meant
that new passports were easily obtained, for any reason. According
to the Coordinator of the Passport Office at the Colombian MFA),
the MFA expects to have a sample of the new Colombian passport in
January 2010 and to introduce it on or before April 1, 2010.
However, they have not put the project out for bid yet. Each of
their passport issuing offices is gradually gaining access to a
central database whereby the issuances of passports can be tracked.
With these new developments, the Colombian passport should be a
more secure document that is more strictly controlled, though older
passports will remain valid until they expire.

--------------------------------------------- --

L. Cooperation with Host Government Authorities

--------------------------------------------- --

34. Colombian authorities view visa fraud as a serious matter and
cooperate fully with mission efforts to investigate and prosecute
human smugglers, traffickers and fraud rings. For example, persons
caught attempting to smuggle a child out of the country face a
five-year jail sentence; the penalties for document falsification
that leads to alien trafficking can include jail terms and asset

35. FPU maintains close working relations with many GOC entities,
including the MFA (for Colombian passport issues), the National
Police's investigatory and intelligence offices (DIJIN and DIPOL,
respectively) for criminal records and intelligence reports, the
Administrative Security Department's (DAS) Migratory Affairs Office
for airport entry/exit reports, and the National Prisons Institute
(INPEC) for prison records, as well as government notaries.

36. In addition, FPU works hand-in-hand with the Colombian private
sector, and with contacts in various banks, companies, universities
and churches. This allows the investigators and officers to
conduct checks and request information from these entities, with
timely responses, and a general willingness to assist in our

37. As part of efforts to prevent mala fide travelers from boarding
flights to the United States, FPU works closely with airport and
security personnel. The FPU and ARSO-I provide anti-fraud training
to airport personnel at all airports with international flights,
conducting several training sessions during the reporting period.

FPU does not currently have the funding to travel to all airports
that request training, though authorities are pro-actively
requesting more and more training, both in the areas of passport
and visa fraud, but also in areas such as detecting counterfeit


BOGOTA 00003128 008 OF 008

M. Areas of Particular Concern


38. According to the "Cases Referred to FPU" report in the CCD,
during the report period, FPU conducted 952 fraud investigations in
NIV and IV cases, with fraud confirmed in 59 of the cases.
Beginning with the previous reporting period, FPU requires that all
cases be referred to FPU before any type of investigation or
inquiry is initiated.

39. FPU staff has an excellent working relationship with consular
officers from other diplomatic missions, in particular the Canadian
and UK embassies, with whom we regularly share information about
fraud trends and practices in Bogota. FPU has worked in close
coordination with the UK, Canadian, and Schengen embassies to hold
quarterly fraud meetings to discuss trends and share relevant

40. FPU is maintaining the license for the i2 Analyst Notebook
software program that allows for charting and analyzing
sophisticated fraud schemes, utilizing data from the nonimmigrant
visa applicant database. Two FPU employees received training on
the software during the reporting period.


N. Staffing and training


41. Embassy Bogota's FPU consists of one full-time Fraud Prevention
Manager, one full-time entry-level officer deputy who rotates
through the Unit every four months, a one full-time entry-level
2C/3B officer who rotates through the Unit every six months, the
ARSO-I, one Eligible Family Member investigator, three Locally
Employed Staff investigators, one of whom works for the ARSO-I and
an LES administrative assistant.

42. In addition to conducting investigations on individually
referred cases from the ACS, IV and NIV Units, FPU also vets all
new journalists traveling to the United States; registers and
houses a database of C1/D companies; works closely with the NIV
Unit to vet groups traveling to the United States on both their
departure and return; enters all lost and stolen passports into the
system; and answers diplomatic notes, "oficios" and correspondence.
FPU also assists U.S. agencies at Post with law enforcement-related
information inquiries, in particular, the Drug Enforcement
Administration and the Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign
Assets Control, and regularly responds to Colombian law enforcement
authorities' requests for information, providing information as
allowed under Department regulations.

43. Fraud Prevention Manager - Deborah Robinson. Completed PC-541,
Fraud Prevention for Consular Managers in Washington, June 2008,
and attended i2 training in April. Fraud Prevention Unit Deputy -
Adelle Gillen. Adelle rotates back to the NIV Unit in October.
Completed PC-541, Fraud Prevention for Consular Managers in
February 2007. 2C/3B officer - Laura Hochla, as of September 1.
She has not completed any fraud or 2C/3B specific training.
Eligible Family Member investigator - Antonio Campillo Hernandez.
Antonio began work in FPU during the reporting period and has taken
no fraud-specific training. Locally Employed Staff investigators -
Sandra Fonseca and Maria Gomez. Maria completed the Fraud
Prevention Workshop for FSNs in 2000, and Sandra in 2002. Sandra
attended the LES Fraud Prevention Workshop in March 2009, and
attended i2 training in June 2009. ARSO-I - William Ferrari. Has
not completed any fraud specific training. ARSO-I Locally Employed
Staff investigator - Eduardo Caro. Will receive RSO fraud training
in the U.S. in September.

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