EL PASO, TEXAS – Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents on Dec. 20 arrested a legal U.S. resident, who allegedly submitted doctored paperwork to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), defrauding the government and applicants.
Perla Vidalez, 39, was arrested at her Lower Valley home, from where she operated an immigration preparation business. Her clients would supply Vidalez with the required immigration paperwork for submission to USCIS, and even though they didn’t qualify for an application fee waiver, Vidalez is charged with altering the paperwork to show they did qualify for one. In addition, she would charge her clients between $600 and $900, the required government fee, which she would keep. The investigation shows that her clients were unaware she was altering their documents and keeping their money.
Vidalez is suspected of having submitted over 320 applications on behalf of her clients, and about 90 percent were granted fee waivers. She is charged with Fraud and Misuse of Visas, Permits and Other Documents – a felony.
“This federal investigation uncovered a sophisticated scheme to exploit the immigration process and steal funding earmarked for the U.S. government from noncitizens as they applied for an immigration benefit,” said Francisco Burrola, special agent in charge of HSI El Paso. “Vidalez not only manipulated her clients trust, she also jeopardized their American dream of becoming a United States Citizen. HSI will continue to work tirelessly with our law enforcement counterparts to investigate criminals who manipulate and exploit the legal system for their own personal gain and see that they are brought to justice.”
Vidalez had her initial appearance in federal court Wednesday afternoon. A preliminary and detention hearing is set for December 27, 2022.
USCIS Fraud Detection and National Security (FDNS) Directorate played a significant role in the investigation.
For more news and information on HSI’s efforts to investigate document and benefit fraud in our community, follow us on Twitter @HSIElPaso
HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel and finance move. HSI’s workforce of over 10,400 employees consists of more than 6,800 special agents assigned to 225 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’ largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.