Federal Informants Are Often Promised Visas. They Rarely Materialize.

Coronado kept his word and provided information that led to the convictions of nine others involved in the mortgage fraud scheme. The government was then requested to grant him the S visa that he had been promised. The Justice Department repeatedly denied Coronado the S visa, pointing out that Coronado couldn't articulate verifiable safety concerns if Coronado returned to his home country, the Dominican Republic.He made a deal immediately with the Justice Department. He would provide information about other participants in the scheme, including two attorneys and a former New York State Senate Candidate, in return for an S visa. This is a special visa commonly known as a "snitch visa" for noncitizen witnesses and informants. Coronado's agreement with government stated that if Coronado fulfilled his obligations, the Justice Department would recommend that the man receive an S visa to allow him to remain in the United States.Nervin Coronado arrived in the United States at the age of 12 years. However, he did not become a citizen. Coronado, an adult, was indicted in 2009 for participating in a mortgage fraud scheme.Gershel explained to The Intercept that my preconceived belief, which I believed was reasonable, was that government agents were acting in bad Faith.Brad Gershel from Coronados has confirmed what journalists and lawyers have suspected for years: S visas are frequently promised, but seldom delivered. Gershel discovered that the problems with this program are deeper and more complicated than initially thought.In 2016, an immigration judge ordered Coronado's removal. He was then deported three more years later after a string of unsuccessful appeals. Coronado was not happy with the outcome. He had been used by the U.S. government to prosecute mortgage fraudsters. They then tossed him aside when he was no more useful.Gershel's report was supported by data. The S visa system is in crisis. The process of applying for an S visa, which is an interagency process that involves an application to the Justice Department and approvals by agencies within the Department of Homeland Security, can take as long as a decade. This lengthy process discourages officials from the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from ever applying for them. The law also requires federal agencies to monitor applicants until the process is completed. This makes S visas less attractive.Gershel stated that any boss at a regional office could say, "We just don't have the resources, the support, or the expertise to monitor someone continuously and report on their activities." It's a burden.The Snitch VisaCongress wanted the S visa, which was established under the Violent Crime Control Act and Law Enforcement Act 1994, the Crime Bill drafted at the time by Senator Joe Biden, to be a powerful tool that federal law enforcement agencies could use to get cooperation from noncitizen informants when investigating major crimes or terrorism. The law allows the government to issue 200 criminal-related S visas each year and 50 related to terrorism. The S visa works in two parts. First, the informant is granted a temporary status for three years. Then, if they meet all requirements related to the government case, immigration officials will grant permanent residence.The FBI amassed 15,000 informants in the years after the 9/11 attacks. In these years, the S Visa became a very popular tool for recruiting. It was often used in front of Muslim immigrants who were willing to help with counterterrorism investigations.John Ashcroft, the then-U.S. attorney, held a press conference in November 2001 to promote the S Visa program. Ashcroft called it the Responsible Cooperators Program. It allows foreign nationals to provide information on terrorism cases and allow them to remain in the United States. In 2001, President George W. Bush promoted the program by telling a conference U.S. lawyers: We're saying welcome to America. It's great that you have come to our country. You've come to our country. Why not make it safer? Help us preserve the freedoms you enjoy in this country.The FBI has used visas for cooperation over the past two decades to attract informants. This is according to government documents. The FBI Confidential Human Resource Policy Guide, a nearly 200-page document detailing how FBI agents should handle informants and how they should be recruited, was published in 2017 by The Intercept. It includes a chapter on immigration-related rewards being used to recruit informants.However, a common narrative has been established that S visas can be used to obtain them. Federal law enforcement agents, including the FBI and the DEA, talk to informants like they could help them get visas. But very few informants receive visas.Gershels report about S visas indicates that it is not because government agents are incompetent or lazy, but agents acting in bad faith who have no intention of helping their informants.Gershel wrote in his report that the problem is not bureaucratic red tape, administrative chaos, bureaucratic red tape, and a flawed application process that is secretly protected from public scrutiny. Gershel also noted that there are no government incentives to help with the lengthy and difficult process. It is simply a systemic inability to issue visas.A broken systemGershel's report is based on data from the Freedom of Information Act, government sources and inspectors general reports. It states that approvals for S visas became more difficult after the creation of DHS in February 2002. DHS was responsible for immigration enforcement. Therefore, applications for S visas from FBI, DEA and other law enforcement agencies fell under its purview. This required a lengthy interagency exchange, Gershel described in his report as a "theater of the absurd".Agents applying for S visas to informants have to navigate a complicated bureaucratic maze. First, there is a review from the Justice Department with an optional advisory panel of Citizenship and Immigration Services. Then, the final review is done by the assistant attorney General for the Criminal Division. Finally, DHS reviews the application and then Citizenship and Immigration Services review it thoroughly before it is sent back to the Justice Department. The application may be denied at any stage of the process. Gershel mentioned a federal agent that claimed one application he sponsored took seven year. Gershel also cited another agent who said five years was the fastest time to apply for a S visa.Gershel's data shows that the S Visa program is significantly underutilized. Congress allows 200 S visas per year for criminal informants, and 50 for terrorist informants. In 2001, 105 criminal informant visas were issued. In 2018, however, 16 S visas were approved by the government for criminal informants.S visas are rarer for terrorist informants. Five S visas were issued by the government in 1995, which was the first year that they were made available. Only one S visa for terrorist informants has been approved since 1995.