Federal Government Issuing Visas for Pilot Training; Did We Learn Nothing on 9/11?

Published on January 12th, 2012

By Joe Guzzardi
December 30, 2011

After 25 years of studying federal immigration policy, I’m surprised when I stumble upon a new wrinkle. During a quarter of century on the immigration beat, I’ve seen almost everything. But when I learned that in early November Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested Karena Chuang on charges that she had brought more than a dozen students from Egypt, Sri Lanka and Taiwan to her La Verne (CA)-based flight school, I was dumbfounded. What shocked me isn’t that someone foiled United States immigration law again—that happens multiple times every day.

My dismay came when I realized that I had never heard of the visa Chuang used to bring potential terrorists into the United States, the M-1. All the other visas from the alphabet soup list are well known to me: the A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V and W. Only X, Y and Z don’t have their own special designations—yet.

The ICE press release indicates that Chuang had little trouble in carrying out her scheme. Beginning in 2006, Chuang helped foreign nationals obtain visas to attend flight schools approved to train foreign students when the students actually intended to enroll at her unauthorized Blue Diamond Aviation. Chuang recruited students by offering lower tuition and a shorter training program than those offered by the authorized flight schools.

The logical question is to ask why the federal government allows foreign nationals to enroll for pilot training in the United States. Despite everything that we apparently did not learn from 9/11 when Florida flight schools trained several terrorists, potential students from overseas have only to satisfy a simple three-step process to get their wings. First, the student must apply to a U.S. certified training school. Second, if he meets the requirements (probably easy to do) the flight school issues an I-20 form that certifies the alien is eligible for the student visa. Third, the I-20 is presented to apply for an M-1 visa.

Chuang easily circumvented the rules. According to the affidavit supporting the criminal charges against her, Chuang fraudulently applied for I-20s from domestic government-certified flight schools on behalf of foreign students by pretending to be their cousin and, in some instances, paid the application fees to those other schools. After the certified flight schools issued the I-20s, Chuang allegedly directed the foreign students to take the forms to the U.S. embassy or consulate in their country to apply for M-1 visas. Once safely in the United States, the students enrolled at Blue Diamond Aviation.

Blue Diamond is not an isolated incident. In 2010, a flight school in El Cajon (CA) pleaded guilty to creating fake visa documents for foreign students. Anglo American Aviation’s owners pleaded guilty to hiring illegal immigrants who posed as instructors. Also in 2010, the Massachusetts TJ Aviation Flight Academy owner Thiago DeJesus trained 34 of his Brazilian countrymen before being charged.

If convicted, Chuang could face maximum charges of up to ten years in prison, a slap on the wrist when weighed against the damages that her involvement in visa fraud could have led to. On Capitol Hill, legislators demand immigration reform. Their concept of reform, however, is to lift the caps on H-1B worker visas. True reform should begin with a massive investigation into the link between legal immigration and visa fraud that gives scam artists an open opportunity to jeopardize national security.


Joe Guzzardi has written editorial columns, mostly about immigration and related social issues, since 1986. He is a Senior Writing Fellow for Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS) and his columns are syndicated in various U.S. newspapers and websites. Contact him at [email protected]

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