September 12, 2013

S-visas: snitching to avoid deportation

The federal government has 250 S-visas (sometimes called "snitch" visas) at its disposal to award to immigrants who provide information about crimes. See 18 U.S.C. s. 1101(a)(15). There has been increasing attention paid to abuses of immigrants under this program: visas promised but never awarded, immigrants who provide significant information but are deported anyway, sometimes at risk to their lives. For more information see the following sources: Andrew Becker, Retired Drug Informant Says he Was Burned, NPR (Feb. 13, 2010); Helen O'Neill, Informants for Feds Face Deportation, Associated Press (2/13/2010) ; Prerna Lal, Reforming a Visa to Snitch, Social Science Research Network (SSRN), (May 1, 2013).

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July 30, 2012

An alternative to snitching for juvenile drug offenders?

Using juvenile offenders as informants can be the opposite of rehabilitation: it keeps young people in contact with criminal networks and can exacerbate drug use and other dangerous behaviors. See this post on a Miami juvenile informant. But a new "restorative justice" approach in Texas offers a different model, in which juveniles charged with serious drug offenses are offered a chance at rehabilitation and skills training. Here's the NYTimes article: New Home for Juveniles Recruited to the Drug Trade. Almost no states regulate the law enforcement policy of turning young people into informants (see Dennis, Juvenile Snitches); the Texas experiment reminds us that the juvenile system is first and foremost supposed to be rehabilitative.

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March 23, 2012

Miami New Times series on juvenile informant

Enriquez Bosco was 15 years old when he became an informant for the police, providing information against one of Miami's most notorious gangs. This three-part series in the Miami New Times documents Bosco's travails--including drug addition, rape, and ultimately deportation--from which his handlers failed to protect him and in some cases, may have brought on. From Part 2 of the story:

Enriquez's story begins and ends in Nicaragua, where he was exiled this past June. Though he had cooperated with Miami police to bust as many as 30 gang members -- including leaders of the infamous International Posse -- authorities allowed him to be beaten, raped, and exiled to the country of his birth with barely a mention of his service. His crime: a guilty plea to possessing traces of cocaine, a third-degree felony that required two days in jail. It resulted from a long-ago drug habit that started when police employed him to make a drug buy.

Juvenile informants often incur terrible risks with little or no protection from the legal system. For an indepth look at the phenomenon, see Andrea Dennis, "Collateral Damage? Juvenile Snitches in America's Wars on Drugs, Crime and Gangs," 46 Am. Crim. L. Rev. 1145 (2009).

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January 24, 2012

Mexican cartel informant testifies in Texas

Here's an unusually detailed glimpse into the activities of a Mexican informant who was part of the Zetas cartel while working for the DEA: Snitch tells of spying on Zetas. It's unusual in part because of the generally secretive nature of informant use, but also more concretely because trials are infrequent and therefore informants rarely testify. On the extent to which informant/cartel members have become central to U.S. law enforcement in Mexico, see this previous post: NYT: Numerous Mexican drug informants benefit U.S. law enforcement.

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October 26, 2011

NYT: Numerous Mexican drug informants benefit U.S. law enforcement

The New York Times features a story this week on the expanding recruitment and use of Mexican drug informants: U.S. Agencies Infiltrating Drug Cartels Across Mexico. The story describes American law enforcement as having "significantly built up networks of Mexican informants" and focuses on the substantial benefits that such criminal informants can provide. For example:

[Informants] have helped Mexican authorities capture or kill about two dozen high-ranking and midlevel drug traffickers, and sometimes have given American counternarcotics agents access to the top leaders of the cartels they are trying to dismantle.

The U.S. also learned of a plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador through one of those DEA-developed informants. See Huffington Post: Iran Plot to Assassinate Saudi Ambassador Foiled by DOJ Sting.

The Times story notes that informants can also give rise to "complicated ethical issues," including the fact that informants are typically working off their own crimes. Last year, NPR and Primetime ran stories illustrating the serious criminality that such informants may engage in, even while working for the government: NPR series on House of Death informant and Primetime: U.S. Customs authorizes informant to import cocaine.

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September 29, 2011

Mother Jones article on FBI terrorism informants

Here is an major article--"The Informants"--from Mother Jones and the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California-Berkeley on the FBI's use of informants in terrorism investigations. The year-long investigation examined 508 defendants in terrorism cases and found:

Nearly half the prosecutions involved the use of informants, many of them incentivized by money (operatives can be paid as much as $100,000 per assignment) or the need to work off criminal or immigration violations.

Sting operations resulted in prosecutions against 158 defendants. Of that total, 49 defendants participated in plots led by an agent provocateur--an FBI operative instigating terrorist action.


With three exceptions, all of the high-profile domestic terror plots of the last decade were actually FBI stings.


In many sting cases, key encounters between the informant and the target were not recorded--making it hard for defendants claiming entrapment to prove their case.


Terrorism-related charges are so difficult to beat in court, even when the evidence is thin, that defendants often don't risk a trial.

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May 19, 2011

NYU Law School report criticizes use of domestic terrorism informants

NYU Law School's Center for Human Rights and Global Justice has just released this report: Targeted and Entrapped: Manufacturing the "Homegrown Threat" in the United States. The report examines three recent high profile domestic terrorism cases, in all of which informants played a central role, and argues that the use of compensated informants is creating the perception of a threat in U.S. Muslim communities where none may have existed before. From the executive summary:

Since September 11, 2001, the U.S. government has targeted Muslims in the United States by sending paid, untrained informants into mosques and Muslim communities. This practice has led to the prosecution of more than 200 individuals in terrorism-related cases. The government has touted these cases as successes in the so-called war against terrorism. However, in recent years, former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents, local lawmakers, the media, the public, and community-based groups have begun questioning the legitimacy and efficacy of this practice, alleging that--in many instances--this type of policing, and the resulting prosecutions, constitute entrapment.

In the cases this Report examines, the government's informants held themselves out as Muslims and looked in particular to incite other Muslims to commit acts of violence. The government's informants introduced and aggressively pushed ideas about violent jihad and, moreover, actually encouraged the defendants to believe it was their duty to take action against the United States. In two of the three cases, the government relied on the defendants' vulnerabilities--poverty and youth, for example--in its inducement methods. In all three cases, the government selected or encouraged the proposed locations that the defendants would later be accused of argeting. In all three cases, the government also provided the defendants with, or encouraged the defendants to acquire, material evidence, such as weaponry or violent videos, which would later be used to convict them.


The report argues that the ways that the U.S. government uses informants to target Muslims threatens such basic legal principles as the right to a fair trial, the right to non-discrimination, and the rights to freedom of religion and expression. The report concludes with numerous policy recommendations.

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January 19, 2011

'Stop Snitching' in the UK

Since we have a guest from the UK, this story seemed particularly timely. A 'stop snitching' pamphlet was distributed in a largely black London housing project after a murder. The event has triggered a debate very similar to the debate in the U.S. over police-community relations. From the BBC story: Peckham murder 'snitch' leaflet: what has changed?:

"No one likes a rat," [the pamphlets] stated. "Remember the police are not your friend. Don't be deceived by promises of anonymity, protection and rewards. They will say and do anything to make you snitch, then destroy your life." It concluded: "Be smart. Don't snitch." The flyers were linked to a website, entitled 'Stop Snitching'. It is unclear whether the site is linked to a campaign of the same name launched in 2004, in the troubled US city of Baltimore. ...

Claudia Webbe, chairwoman of the public panel set up to scrutinise [the police's] work, said: "People on the estate were very angry and defiant after the leaflets - but for some it added to the fear. It tapped into suspicions some have long believed." One Southwark councillor has claimed that the leaflets actually had the effect of increasing the number of calls to police - something the Metropolitan Police is yet to comment on. And Ms Webbe thinks the estate's reaction since the leafleting campaign is symptomatic of how relationships between police and the black community have improved. She said: "In 1998 not a single person would have spoken to police after a murder like this."

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