Passport fraud is a federal crime and not one taken lightly by the U.S. government. Passport fraud is an illegal means by when an individual gains citizenship in another country by forging a passport or falsifying other legal documents to obtain a passport.
Since August 2007, the U.S. has been issuing only e-passports, which have a computer chip embedded in the back cover containing a digital photograph and other biometric information. Although some technology experts say this information is easy to copy, this technology should reduce future forgery.
Passport fraud crimes include:
- Issuance by a Consular Officer without Authority;
- False Use of Passport;
- Misuse of Passport;
- Safe Conduct Violation; and
- Fraudulent Obtaining of Visas and other Entry Documents.
How are Passports Typically Forged?
There are numerous ways to forge a passport to gain entry into the United States. A forger may steal a passport, then erase and reprint information. A passport forger might also obtain a passport with a pre-printed number but no biographical information from a corrupt government official at a U.S. embassy.
A passport forger may also obtain a valid US passport by using a fraudulent name and other information. Furthermore, a forger could steal a valid U.S. Passport and assume that person’s identity.
However, with increased security measures it’s becoming harder to successfully forge a passport.
What are the Elements of Passport Fraud?
The elements of passport fraud include the following:
- Forgery: The crime of seeking to enter the US with a fake, forged, or improper passport is addressed by the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA) as a "no valid passport" charge under section 212(a)(26). Under this section, an immigrant is denied entry when the passport does not show the person’s correct identity and nationality.
- Fraud or Misrepresentation: The next requirement for inadmissibility at the time of entry is fraud or misrepresentation. For example, a visa obtained by deception or an attempted entry through fraud is equivalent to having no visa at all. The fraud has to be regarding material fact, that is, a fact that if revealed would have barred entry. If the passport was obtained through the use of false information in the application process, then the passport holder has committed fraud.
- Knowledge of Misrepresentation: The government only has to establish that the immigrant knew that the information on the passport is false. The government does not have to prove why the immigrant used a false passport or put false information on the passport.
- Intent: The passport user had intent to commit the crime of passport fraud and to enter the country using illegal means.
What Happens If an Immigrant Tries To Enter the U.S. With a Forged or Stolen Passport?
After detaining immigrants and performing background checks, authorities may give the immigrant the option of catching the next plane back to their country. Immigrants may seek asylum, in which case an immigration court before deportation may hear their stories. Their biographical information will be retained, and depending on the circumstances, they may be excluded from the US for a certain period of time.
What If the Passport Holder is an American Citizen?
Using a forged or stolen passport is a crime, which applies to American citizens as well as non-citizens. However, unlike non-citizens, the government can only revoke a citizen’s passport after a hearing.
What are the Consequences of Passport Forgery?
Passport forgery is a serious offense that can carry penalties of imprisonment and heavy fines. In addition to charges for forgery, you can also be charged with other offenses such as identity theft and fraud for using the passport to travel, as identification, or to apply for visas and other documents. Common penalties for a passport fraud conviction are:
- Fines up to $250,000;
- Sentence up to 10 years in prison;
- Removed from the country;
- Banned from entering the country for at least five years; and
- A permanent record of fraud within the country.
Should I Contact a Lawyer About My Passport Issue?
If you have been charged with forgery of a passport and any accompanying crimes, you should speak with a criminal defense lawyer who can help defend your case. If your passport has been stolen, you should promptly report it stolen to prevent its unauthorized use.