Translated from Spanish by Emily Leavitt.
Although government authorities have stepped up their vigilance, the black market for fake documents such as green cards, Social Security cards, and drivers’ licenses has expanded to new neighborhoods.
For years, Roosevelt Avenue in Queens was the most well-known spot for the sale of fake documents, but in the budding neighborhood of Sunset Park, Brooklyn, a more sophisticated, competing market has emerged. The fake documents from this market seem to be of higher quality and are more realistic.
The vendors in Sunset Park operate very differently from the ones on Roosevelt Avenue. On Roosevelt Avenue, they have a tendency to stake out their turf on a certain block and approach pedestrians who they consider to look like “immigrants.” They whisper, “Social, social.”
“I can’t walk down any other block. Here, like in California, it’s an issue of territory. They fight over that,” said a vendor in Queens, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the illegal nature of his work.
In the streets of Sunset Park, however, business is run in an unusual way: there aren’t any vendors. Fake documents are bought through “contacts” or “connections.”
At a bakery and restaurant in Sunset Park, the patrons are not only able to buy pastries and traditional food, but also a combination of fake documents for $120, which includes a Social Security card and a green card.
New customers must reveal how they found out about the place and who recommended it to them.
The employees receive updates about the illegal activity.
“A client is coming now. He’s going to ask for papers,” explained a worker to a buyer who asked to remain anonymous.
Local residents also know what goes on in the bakery.
“You can go to that restaurant and buy whatever ‘document’ you need,” said a resident who did not wish to be identified.
In another area of Sunset Park, it’s possible to obtain a green card, nearly identical to the original, for between $1,000 and $1,500.
“It’s a Mexican family that operates their business out of Los Angeles. The most frequent customers are Poles and Russians. You can only get through to that business by pulling strings and with a lot of money. They’ve been here for years,” said a buyer who preferred not to be identified.
“When I began to work at a branch of a fast food chain, they asked me for a Social Security card and they told me I could buy it at that restaurant. I preferred to lose my job because I know that identity theft is a serious crime and you can go to jail for it,” said a Mexican woman who did not wish to be identified either.
Queens State Senator José Peralta expressed concern over the authorities’ lack of attention to the sale of fake documents in Queens, a market that has been operating for decades. “All levels of government should commit to eliminating this illegal activity, like they did with the renovation of Times Square. Without that level of dedication, Roosevelt Avenue will go down the drain,” Peralta said.
Kevin Ryan, spokesman for the Queens District Attorney’s office, said that the Queens D.A. is committed to “aggressively searching for criminal businesses that carry out these kinds of illegal activities.”
Ryan said that although fake documents seem real, police, airport, and Department of Motor Vehicles officials easily detect them as false.
Officials in Brooklyn are also worried about the sale of fake documents. Jonah Bruno, spokesman for the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office, said that one of the Brooklyn D.A.’s greatest concerns is to make sure that victims of fraud receive justice, no matter what their immigration status might be.
ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is aware of the problem. Lou Martínez, the spokesman for ICE in New York, said that his agency has found documents for permanent residency sold for between $40 and $100. “The prices change constantly, and they have a different purpose, depending on what part of the country sells them.”
From October through December 2010, as part of Operation Wildcard, Department of Homeland Security agents apprehended networks that produced fake documents in 42 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico. The agents arrested 379 people on criminal charges and 310 on administrative charges.
The NYC Police Department did not respond to repeated requests for information on arrests and operations focused on eliminating this problem.