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Federal Investigators Ask Undocumented Immigrants For Help

Liz Jones

Federal immigration officials in Seattle are turning to an uncommon source for help: undocumented immigrants. The feds want help building a case against a man they say posed as an immigration agent.


Authorities say the alleged imposter went by the nickname "Panama." His real name is Jose Antonio Haughton.

He's facing trial in Washington on state charges. He allegedly coerced a woman into giving him money and sex, praying on her fears of deportation.

Federal investigators say he made similar threats against other immigrants. They're trying to build a federal case against him.

Andrew Munoz is with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement in Seattle. He says Haughton would promise to help immigrants get around federal red tape for a fee, and he went to elaborate charades to trap victims.

Munoz: "Even going so far as accompanying them to Department of Homeland Security offices in the Seattle area and pretending to interact with DHS employees, all in a ruse to make his victims believe that he was legitimate."

Munoz says they believe Houghton carried out these schemes in the Seattle area for several years — and possibly in other states.

Undocumented immigrants typically spend their lives avoiding the agency Munoz represents. He gets why they'd be nervous to come forward.

Munoz: "So we want to make it very clear that immigrants, if they are a victim of a crime, they have rights. Our main concern in this case is to prosecute the impostor."

He says victims who help investigators could be eligible to apply for legal status.

No federal charges have been brought against Houghton, but Munoz notes it's a federal crime to impersonate a federal officer. It's also a crime to offer immigration documents, like a green card, unless you're a government official.

The federal agency is working with immigrant advocates in the Northwest to help find possible victims.

I'm Liz Jones, KUOW News.

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