Robert DeKelaita, of Glenview, Illinois, described in 2008 as one of a “handful of immigration lawyers who specialize in representing Iraqi Christians,” was accused of “submitting falsely created affidavits, baptismal certificates, [and] identity documents” on asylum forms he submitted to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) between 2000 and 2011.
He also allegedly coached his clients to lie about their past when they were interviewed by federal immigration officials.
The phony identity information included “false names, false religions, false dates of travel, false dates of entry into the United States, false dates of birth, and false family history,” according to the Sept. 23 indictment.
DeKelaita also allegedly “wrote and created false asylum statements detailing non-existent accounts of purported religious persecution, including fictitious accounts of rape and murder, and attached these statements to the [CIS] Form I-589 he submitted on behalf of his clients,” the indictment further charged.
U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon of the Northern District of Illinois charged DeKelaita with one count of conspiracy to commit immigration and naturalization fraud, three counts of immigration fraud, and three counts of suborning perjury.
His translator, Adam Benjamin, was also indicted for allegedly “mistranslat[ing] answers given by the clients and add[ing] testimony not actually stated by the clients during the course of the asylum interviews.”
Under federal law, foreigners seeking asylum in the United States must provide proof that they suffered persecution “on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group, or had a well-founded fear of persecution” if they returned to their home country. After asylum is granted, they are eligible to seek lawful permanent residency or naturalized U.S. citizenship.
CNSNews.com asked Assistant U.S. Attorney for Public Information Randall Samborn whether any of DeKelaita’s clients who submitted falsified asylum applications have also been arrested or indicted for immigration fraud.
“Not to my knowledge, no,” he replied, adding that there were currently no plans to do so.
CNSNews.com asked Samborn if one of the individuals identified in the indictment only as “Y.L.” was Yousif Lazar, a native of Iraq and resident of Farmington Hills, Michigan, who entered the U.S. illegally via Mexico “on May 20, 1999 without being admitted or paroled by an immigration officer,” according to an August 14, 2007 ruling by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
“No comment,” he replied.
CNSNews.com asked why it took 11 years to arrest DeKelaita when, according to court documents, Lazar testified at his 2003 asylum hearing that “he lied upon the advice of his former counsel, DeKelaita.”
“You’re asking questions beyond the four corners of the indictment and I’m not going to comment on anything that’s not in the public record,” Samborn replied.
CNSNews.com asked if DeKelaita had been creating false identities for his clients.
“He used various false information, but did not specifically create false identities,” Samborn replied. “The indictment itself refers to individuals by initials on whose behalf he submitted false information, but not necessarily to create a fictitious person, as opposed to giving false information on actual individuals,” he explained.
Another client, identified only as “M.J.”, was also allegedly coached by DeKelaita to commit perjury during an asylum interview. She falsely told federal immigration officers that Islamic extremists had threatened to kidnap and kill her husband and daughter, according to the indictment.
“Client H.A.” also falsely claimed that his father had been executed, his house in Iraq had been burned down by Muslim extremists, and his brother’s name had been “put on an elimination list,” the government charged.
Each count carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The indictment also seeks an additional $60,000 forfeiture of attorney’s fees from DeKelaita if he is convicted.