A Shady US Guyanese Immigration Officer, a Green Card, and a Demand for Sex
Guyana Chronicle – March 24, 2008
By Nina Bernstein
NO problems so far, the immigration agent told the American citizen and his 22-year-old Colombian wife at her green card interview in December. After he stapled one of their wedding photos to her application for legal permanent residency, he had just one more question: What was her cell phone number?
Isaac R. Baichu, 46, an adjudicator for the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, was arrested after he met with a green card applicant at the Flagship Restaurant, a diner in Queens. He is charged with coercing oral sex from her.
The calls from the agent started three days later. He hinted, she said, at his power to derail her life and deport her relatives, alluding to a brush she had with the law before her marriage. He summoned her to a private meeting. And at noon on Dec. 21, in a parked car on Queens Boulevard, he named his price — not realising that she was recording everything on the cell phone in her purse.
“I want sex,” he said on the recording. “One or two times. That’s all. You get your green card. You won’t have to see me anymore.”
She reluctantly agreed to a future meeting. But when she tried to leave his car, he demanded oral sex “now,” to “know that you’re serious.” And despite her protests, she said, he got his way.
The 16-minute recording, which the woman first took to The New York Times and then to the Queens District Attorney, suggests the vast power of low-level immigration law enforcers, and a growing desperation on the part of immigrants seeking legal status. The aftermath, which included the arrest of an immigration agent last week, underscores the difficulty and danger of making a complaint, even in the rare case when abuse of power may have been caught on tape.
No one knows how widespread sexual blackmail is, but the case echoes other instances of sexual coercion that have surfaced in recent years, including agents criminally charged in Atlanta, Miami and Santa Ana, Calif. And it raises broader questions about the system’s vulnerability to corruption at a time when millions of non-citizens live in a kind of legal no-man’s land, increasingly fearful of seeking the law’s protection.
The agent arrested last week, Isaac R. Baichu, 46, himself an immigrant from Guyana, handled some 8,000 green card applications during his three years as an adjudicator in the Garden City, N.Y., office of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, part of the federal Department of Homeland Security. He pleaded not guilty to felony and misdemeanor charges of coercing the young woman to perform oral sex, and of promising to help her secure immigration papers in exchange for further sexual favours. If convicted, he will face up to seven years in prison.
His agency has suspended him with pay, and the inspector general of Homeland Security is reviewing his other cases, a spokesman said Wednesday.
Prosecutors, who say they recorded a meeting between Mr. Baichu and the woman on March 11 at which he made similar demands for sex, urge any other victims to come forward.
Money, not sex, is the more common currency of corruption in immigration, but according to Congressional testimony in 2006 by Michael Maxwell, former director of the agency’s internal investigations, more than 3,000 backlogged complaints of employee misconduct had gone uninvestigated for lack of staff, including 528 involving criminal allegations.
The agency says it has tripled its investigative staff since then, and counts only 165 serious complaints pending. But it stopped posting an e-mail address and phone number for such complaints last year, said Jan Lane, chief of security and integrity, because it lacks the staff to cull the thousands of mostly irrelevant messages that resulted. Immigrants, she advised, should report wrongdoing to any law enforcement agency they trust.
The young woman in Queens, whose name is being withheld because the authorities consider her the victim of a sex crime, did not even tell her husband what had happened. Two weeks after the meeting in the car, finding no way to make a confidential complaint to the immigration agency and afraid to go to the police, she and two older female relatives took the recording to The Times.
Reasons to Worry
A slim, shy woman who looks like a teenager, she said she had spent recent months baby-sitting for relatives in Queens, crying over the deaths of her two brothers back in Cali, Colombia, and longing for the right stamp in her passport — one that would let her return to the United States if she visited her family.
(NEW YORK TIMES)