Hundreds of Palestinians, Syrians and other Middle East residents have fraudulently registered as citizens of Honduras, according to a Washington-based immigration think tank.
Honduras’ National Registry of Persons confirmed that Arabs by the hundreds have used fraud to gain citizenship.
The Center for Immigration Studies reported the findings Friday based on a review of Spanish-language news coverage. The group said this activity raises security concerns for the United States since Honduran passports could give these individuals easy entry into the U.S.
“The issue here is that the smugglers and the other organized crime groups know that whenever someone makes it to the U.S. border … they almost certainly will be allowed to come into the United States and stay for an indefinite period of time,” said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies for the center.
Vaughan, a former foreign service officer, said smugglers are using the Obama administration’s “notorious catch-and-release policies as a selling point and are now making money off lenient border enforcement.”
The Center for Immigration Studies cited local reports that Honduras’ National Registry of Persons confirmed that Arabs by the hundreds have used fraud to gain citizenship there. La Prensa, a Honduran newspaper, reported that the foreigners have purchased Honduran identity documents. It focused on the case of Kareen Samer Abdulhadi, a Palestinian who presented himself to the Honduran consulate in Barcelona in October 2014. He used documentation to request a passport, describing his status as “Honduran by birth.”
Consular officials were suspicious, however, because of his Arab features, language and inconsistent birth information. Diplomats discovered that in 2013, someone had hacked into the database of municipal birth registrations in Honduras, according to the Center for Immigration Studies. That apparently allowed Abdulhadi to be documented as a Honduran.
La Prensa reported that Abdulhadi’s father acquired his own Honduran identity card and birth certificate and was able to register at least eight family members. The newspaper uncovered an organized crime ring with international ties to smuggling. Authorities determined that at least 100 Palestinians and Syrians were able to register with fraudulent documentation. The network uses falsified birth certificates of Hondurans who have died or not obtained an identity card, according to the immigration group. La Prensa reported that the network operated from little-used inland municipal registries to establish internal contacts.
“I understand that it is a network that operates from outside Honduras and that referred clients to certain parts of the country. They have people who know and have access to the system, as employees of the registry have an assigned username to be able to modify part of the database,” an official told the newspaper on condition of anonymity.
The paper laid out how the scheme works. First, the foreigner contacts the smuggler, who obtains a Honduran identity card. Next, a Honduran official alters the data of a living citizen or a dead person whose family has not submitted a death certificate. With the fraudulent certificate in hand, the smuggler goes to another municipal registry to process the ID. Then the foreigner can apply for a passport at the Honduran embassy.
Many of the Palestinians and Syrians who were registered as Honduran citizens went to the U.S. embassy to apply for a tourist visa, La Prensa reported. But they were detected by internal controls. Vaughan said it is impossible to know how many might have slipped into the United States undetected.
Statistics from the federal government indicate that half a million people who came to the United States last year via plane or ship for business or tourism remained after their visas expired. That includes about 4,000 of the 161,000 Hondurans who arrived here.
Vaughan said tourist visas can be an attractive way to enter the United States with the intention of staying, but the application fee and other requirement deter many poor Central Americans. But she said a terrorist with financing, once he has obtained Honduran documentation, easily could exploit the system.
"That’s the most frightening scenario," she said.