The owner of a La Verne, California-based flight school faces charges of visa fraud for allegedly bringing students from abroad to train at her school using fraudulent visas. She is also accused of failing to properly screen foreign students under federal flight school regulations. Immigration authorities arrested 28 year-old Karena Chuang on November 30, 2011 and released her on $40,000 bond. Her school, Blue Diamond Aviation, allegedly enrolled students from Taiwan, Sri Lanka, and Egypt. The case involves issues pertaining to both immigration and anti-terrorism laws, both of which are critical for businesses that employ immigrants to understand.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) alleges that Chuang presented herself to immigration officials as her students’ cousin, helped them get approval to attend government-authorized flight schools, and then enrolled them at her school instead. ICE claims that she obtained I-20 forms, which certify a foreign national’s eligibility for a visa, from government-authorized flight schools, and sometimes even paid the application fees herself. Students could use the I-20 to apply for an M-1 visa, required to attend a commercial pilot training program. She allegedly also advised student not to tell immigration officials that they intended to enroll at her school. ICE apparently learned of her activities from two Egyptian applicants who admitted last year that they intended to attend Chuang’s school.
The AP reports that several other flight schools have faced similar allegations in recent years. A school in El Cajon, California allegedly created fake visas for students, pleading guilty to charges of visa fraud in 2010. A Massachusetts school trained Brazilians who had entered the U.S. without proper documentation.
Visa fraud is a serious offense under federal law. The crime of “fraud and misuse of visas, permits, and other documents” in the federal criminal code includes impersonating another person or making false statements while applying for any document required for immigration purposes. The statute allows for up to ten or fifteen years imprisonment, with enhancements if terrorism or drug trafficking was involved. This case gets complicated because it also involves laws directly related to terrorism.
ICE has directly related this case to federal anti-terrorism efforts because of its connection to aviation. Flight schools must obtain government authorization in order to train foreign nationals. Foreign nationals wishing to take a flight training course must submit to various background checks by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and immigration authorities, including a process of comparing applicants against terrorist watch lists. ICE officials argue that Chuang endangered national security by allegedly circumventing this process.
An ICE special agent in Los Angeles quoted by the Associated Press noted that none of the students trained in Chuang’s school had any known ties to terrorism. None of the press reports indicate if immigration officials plan any action against Chuang’s students. An Ohio State University professor with extensive experience in homeland security policy issues argued that pilots trained on small planes pose little threat to national security, as those flight skills do not easily translate to large commercial jets. Many national security concerns may prove to be excessive, but they are unlikely to go away any time soon.
The New Jersey immigration lawyers at Samuel C. Berger, PC help immigrants seeking work visas, investor visas, and other ways to come to, or remain in, the United States. To schedule a consultation with one of our skilled attorneys today, contact us online or at (201) 587-9200.
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