Paper Chase

A former INS agent goes into business to smoke out fake documents

"That's very common," he says. "That's one reason employers get in trouble; that's one of the reasons the audits are helpful." The idea is that with his private audits, companies could avoid coming under the government's suspicion in the first place.

Meanwhile, detecting fakes has never been harder. "One of the problems is that these documents are getting closer and closer to the real thing," ICE's Rusnok says. "Now, with technology, you don't need 30 years of experience in false documents to make one that looks real."

When it comes to immigration, documents aren't the only things that often prove false. For years, so-called "immigration consultants" have popped up in the news after they were found to be swindling immigrants with empty promises and outrageous fees. State Attorney General Greg Abbott pushed to target such scams, shutting down some 25 statewide between 2002 and 2005.

Fernando Careaga Jr., who recently started a consulting company with his father to help employers follow immigration laws
Brian Harkin
Fernando Careaga Jr., who recently started a consulting company with his father to help employers follow immigration laws

That's a stigma Fernando and Fernando Consulting will attempt to combat, say father and son. Careaga has been aware of charlatan consultants and immigration lawyers his entire career, and he says the biggest red flag is when someone tells a client he can help them get citizenship without looking at the person's specific circumstances. For most people who have entered the country illegally, for example, the only way to get some sort of residency is to have a boss or relative petition on their behalf. But even then, the wait is long and usually they have to leave the country while they wait. The Careagas have already turned a number of people away because they don't have any recourse, they say.

"We won't take cases we can't work with," says Fernando Jr. "I'd rather turn them away than take their money knowing I can't help them."

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