Too Many See Immigration Policy as a Good-vs-Bad Morality Play

Too many Americans (and too many in the media) see the surge of Central Americans as a simplistic morality play, that runs about like this:

  • Arriving Central Americans (although illegals) are good.
  • They are fleeing from violence, and from other Central Americans who are bad.
  • If our immigration system sends them home, that would be bad.

Well, as my colleagues have been arguing, it is more complicated than that, and we simply cannot absorb all the good people who are having trouble with bad people overseas, or the hundreds of millions who simply want to improve themselves economically by coming to the States.

I was reminded of these complications the other day while reading a court case about a facet of immigration that is often overlooked. To use the easy generalizations above, this is what happened:

  • There was a bad man in Togo. He lied to get into the United States as an asylee.
  • There were some good kids in Togo, along with a good woman.
  • The bad man then lied again, and brought the good kids and the good woman to the United States, where he exploited them, and beat the children, and used them to collect various welfare and tax benefits that he did not deserve.
  • After years of misery for the good people from Togo the law caught up with the bad man and he is now in jail.

In this case, the immigration system failed, at least twice. It let in, in two tranches, six people who had no right to be in the United States. It will, in all probability allow five of them to stay, and may, after much taxpayer expense and the passage of much time, send the bad guy back to Togo.

It is a piece of reality that is much more complex than the simplistic view of the Central American surge and other immigration matters and shows that the immigration system can – and does – admit some terrible people, and allow them to abuse other aliens, right here in the United States. This is not the norm, but it happens too often.

It is a grim and significant detail in the big immigration picture, one that the mas-migration people prefer to ignore. It also illustrates the premise that people who break the immigration law – as this man did – often break many other laws as well. Here are the specifics:

Some time prior to 2006, Jean-Claude Kodjo Toviave came to the United States from Togo, probably as a tourist. Subsequently, he convinced the immigration system that he was an asylee. He is identified in press clippings as a former tennis pro and, more recently, a janitor at the University of Michigan. I have it on good authority that subsequently it was learned that there were substantial problems with his asylum application.

In 2006, according to papers in the PACER files for his trial and its appeal, he filed an application to have four children from Togo, unrelated to him and to each other, admitted as his biological children; similarly he caused the admission of an adult woman, whom he falsely identified as his wife. Our immigration law is shot through with provisions that allow such admissions, though usually the aliens are genuine relatives.

A few months after they arrived he began to insist on what sounds like a near pathological-level of household cleanliness, all to be done by the children, and he would beat them with broomsticks and other instruments if they did not toe the line. He similarly insisted that they clean his girlfriend’s house. He used the denial of food and sleep if the children did not do what he wanted.

Meanwhile, over the years, he apparently used the children’s presence to secure welfare assistance of some (unspecified) kind and used the children to secure Earned Income Tax Credits for himself. I did not read every paper in the file, but would suspect that he also used the children to secure additional tax credits, another tax benefit for himself.

So, Toviave broke the immigration laws, broke the welfare laws, stole from the tax system, probably in multiple ways, abused children – and this all happened because the immigration system, some years ago, admitted him as an asylee, and then admitted the children as his dependents.

Some four years after the various abuses started, in late 2010 or early 2011, something happened (again not clear from the files) and Toviave finally got in trouble with the authorities. He was indicted for visa abuse, mail fraud, harboring aliens, and forced labor and attempted forced labor, a total of eight different federal counts.

He pled guilty to several counts, including visa and mail fraud, but went to trial on the forced labor charges, for which he was convicted.

At this point, the federal judge hearing the case made what looks to me like a foolish mistake. Instead of first sentencing the convict for the counts to which he pled guilty, and then sentencing him for the forced labor counts separately, the judge blurred these two sets of sentences together, setting a 130-month prison term for all of them. I have been told, though I saw nothing in the sentencing documents, that given his record he is highly likely to be deported at the end of his time in jail.

What the judge should have done, in my layman’s view, was to organize the sentencing so that there would be no utility of an appeal. He could have done this by sending him to jail for 130 months on the visa charges and then sending him to jail for a concurrent sentence of 130 months for the forced labor charges. Under those circumstances an appeal would have been useless

Or the judge could have taken the less drastic step – which would not have forestalled an appeal – of setting separate and non-concurring sentences for the two different crimes, meaning that a successful appeal of the forced labor charges would not upset the other sentence.

Unfortunately he did neither, the appeal was successful, and now the 130-month sentence (for the combined crimes) will face a review, and perhaps a reduction.

The judge, in short, handled this case in such a way as to cause the maximum waste of judicial resources. The convict, of course, has access to free legal counsel at the taxpayers’ expense, and had no reason not to appeal, and did so.

While the district court judge presided over a case that led to convictions, the right outcome in my eyes, the appeals court (the Sixth Circuit) somehow came to the conclusion that the jailed man had not violated the federal forced labor statutes, on the grounds that getting children to help clean the house was not a crime. Further, they said that child abuse was a state, not a federal problem.

What will happen to the length of the federal sentence? Will the state courts open a case that might otherwise have been resolved at the federal level? No one knows.

Meanwhile, the bad guy remains in jail, and lots and lots of federal resources have been used to try to clean up a mess set in motion by the immigration system.

Immigration problems, in short, are often very, very complicated and the asylum applicant is not automatically agood person.

This account is largely based on the files in the U.S. Courts’ electronic documents system, PACER, where the trial file can be seen at 2.11-cr-20259-AJT-MAR, (Eastern District of Michigan) and the appeals documents at 13-1441 (Sixth Circuit).

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