“Then I shot him in the chest, dude. Boom, boom, boom, boom. Let's see, I shot him like four times in the hand, dude. But all of the other ones . . . straight up, dude. I shot that dude in the liver and the lungs, dude.”
That was gang member Gerardo Salazar-Rodriguez describing, on a recently wiretapped telephone call, how he killed a member of a rival document-production gang, according to the Justice Department.
The U.S. attorney's office in Chicago says Salazar-Rodriguez worked for a document-counterfeiting ring that took in up to $3 million a year producing fake IDs for $200 to $300 a “set,” including a Social Security card, a driver's license and the permanent-residence credential known as a “green card.”
On April 25, federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents charged Salazar-Rodriquez and 12 other alleged gang members with conspiring to carry out the murder Salazar-Rodriguez recounted and a related killing, both in Mexico. Fugitive warrants for 10 others were issued as well, including Salazar-Rodriguez, believed to be on the run in Mexico. The defendants have not pleaded to the charges yet because the Justice Department plans to seek grand jury indictments first, says Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Nasser Weiss.
Agents reported seizing more than $200,000 in cash during the arrests, along with computers, printers, scanners, a cutting board and hundreds of blank Social Security cards and other IDs.
The arrests threw a spotlight on a byproduct of the U.S. immigration scene, in which millions of foreigners without authorization to live or work in the United States need credentials to get jobs and go about their daily lives. The alleged Chicago gang was based in Mexico, but its customers included natives of Poland, India, Arab countries, Nigeria, Canada, Haiti and Pakistan, prosecutors said, noting ordinary immigrants aren't necessarily the only customers. “Criminals and even terrorists can use fraudulent documents to conceal themselves in our society,” they said.
Making identification more secure from counterfeiting is one of the goals of the Real ID Act of 2005, which starts going into effect next year. Driver's licenses issued under the law will have to be “machine-readable” and contain biometric data.
And other measures will make licenses more reliable, federal officials say. “We can't have a truly secure identification system based on driver's licenses unless we make sure that the states are protecting the information,” Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told reporters on March 1. “States have to have procedures in place so you can't hack into the database and steal the information, or break into the warehouse and steal the cards, or somehow get into the DMV office and get the critical documents. We are requiring the states to prepare a comprehensive security plan to safeguard their DMV offices, their driver's-license storage and production facilities and their databases and systems.”
Nevertheless, critics insist Real ID will make licenses less — not more — secure.
“The value of working in the United States with documentation, as opposed to working without it, is very high,” says Jim Harper, information-policy-studies director at the libertarian Cato Institute. “People who are able to get themselves together enough to cross the border are hard-working people, which is to their credit in one sense. If they need to use those skills in other ways, they'll do it. They'll pay $5,000 to bribe a Social Security Administration or motor vehicle department worker.”
He adds that the Real ID system will place more data about individuals at risk, because regulations will require states to digitize and keep records, such as birth certificates, that are now scattered in various locations. “If you've got images of basic documents stored centrally, that would be really, really useful to ID fraudsters,” Harper says.
But the law's supporters point to new requirements for background checks of motor vehicle workers or contractors involved in producing licenses. The law, says consultant Janice Kephart, a former member of the 9/11 Commission staff, will “add to the individual consumer's ability to be safer in their ID. It's going to be better protected.”
In the Chicago case, a 113-page affidavit by Special Agent Jason E. Medica of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, filled with alleged quotes from wiretaps, doesn't indicate contacts with any state or federal employees involved in the ID process.
But the quotes do show a high level of industriousness. “Do you make culinary licenses?” one of the defendants asks another during a March 28, 2007, conversation.
“No, we only have [standard] licenses . . . birth certificates. . . . If we had it here, we would at least try, right? But I need a sample.”