A sexual blackmail case involving a New York woman seeking a green card suggests the vast power of low-level immigration law enforcers, and a growing desperation on the part of immigrants seeking legal status, reports the New York Times. 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. Other cases involving sexual coercion have come up in Atlanta, Miami and Santa Ana, Calif. It raises questions about the system's vulnerability to corruption at a time when millions of noncitizens live in a kind of legal no-man's land, increasingly fearful of seeking the law's protection.
The agent arrested Isaac Baichu, 46, himself an immigrant from Guyana, handled 8,000 green card applications for the office of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, part of the Department of Homeland Security. He pleaded not guilty to charges of coercing the woman to perform oral sex, and of promising to help her secure immigration papers in exchange for further sexual favors. Money, not sex, is the more common currency of corruption in immigration. A federal official told Congress in 2006 that more than 3,000 backlogged complaints of employee misconduct had gone uninvestigated for lack of staff, including 528 involving criminal allegations. The agency has tripled its investigative staff since then, and counts only 165 serious complaints pending.