A Milwaukee police officer known as Jose Morales actually is dead, and the officer is a cousin, Oscar Ayala-Cornejo, 24, He is an illegal immigrant from Mexico who had assumed Morales’s identity as a high school student in 1999, reports the Washington Post. Last week, Ayala-Cornejo agreed to plead guilty to a federal felony charge of falsely claiming to be a U.S. citizen. He faces six to 12 months in jail, after which he has agreed to leave the country.
John Balcerzak, president of the Milwaukee Police Association labor union, said the incident shows that the department should beef up its background-check process. “This is a wake-up call to our department and departments around the country,” he said. “When I was hired 20 years ago, they went to old neighbors and high school teachers. People are really concerned he was able to do this, and they feel let down by him.” Ayala-Cornejo joined the police department as an aide in 2001. He became an officer in December 2004 and in 2005 was assigned to District 2, a heavily Latino area on the city’s South Side, which is also home to many residents of German and Polish descent. Latino leaders note that working under someone else’s identity is common practice for many of the estimated 12 million undocumented U.S. immigrants. “Their personhood is not recognized since they don’t have the right piece of paper, but they’re working and they’re not harming anyone,” said Arnaldo Garcia of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. “It’s very typical that a citizen daughter would lend her Social Security number to her mother so she can work or cousins would use the same driver’s license if they look alike. The problem is that the system is set up to criminalize people for working.”