Illegals Scammed by Fake Tribes
OMAHA, NEB. - For prices starting at $50, two Indian tribes that do not have federal recognition are offering membership to thousands of illegal immigrants, claiming they can achieve legal status by joining the groups.
The practice also has surfaced in Florida.
Immigration authorities, however, insist that becoming a tribe member gives no protection against being deported. Also, immigration advocates condemn the practice, saying it defrauds immigrants of money and gives them false hope.
"You can't just decide to become a member of a tribe and all of a sudden legalize your status," said Marilu Cabrera, a spokeswoman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
In Nebraska, some people reported paying up to $1,200 to join the Kaweah Indian Nation, which became the target of a federal investigation after complaints about the tribe arose in at least five states.
Manuel Urbina, the tribe's high chief, acknowledged that his group has sold at least 10,000 tribal memberships to illegal immigrants for about $50 each. "We are not going against the law; we're with the law," he said, claiming membership papers can help illegal immigrants avoid being detained by authorities if they are asked for documents.
The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs denied the Kaweah group recognition in 1985, saying it was not a real tribe: A Kaweah tribe did exist once, but the one that applied for recognition was not related to it.
A Florida man has made similar sales pitches to immigrants on behalf of a North Dakota-based tribe.
Audie Watson said he sold about 2,000 memberships to the North Dakota-based Pembina Nation Little Shell tribe through a Web site. Each cost $150.
Watson, president of the Tamarac-based religious nonprofit Universal Service Dedicated to God, said his tribe has a waiting list of prospective members, but he admitted about 500 people have asked for refunds because of "adverse publicity."
The Little Shell tribe asked for federal recognition in North Dakota in the 1970s, but tribal representatives never completed the application process, according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.