An Illinois attorney has been found guilty of submitting false information to immigration authorities in an effort to win asylum in the United States for his clients.
Robert DeKelaita was accused of submitting false information on behalf of his foreign national clients to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Prosecutors said that from 2000 to 2011 DeKelaita’s appeals for asylum contained “material lies” that largely sought to paint his clients as victims of religious persecution in the Middle East.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of Illinois, the lies DeKelaita told to immigration officials included “tales of rape, murder, torture, kidnappings, bombings and other forms of religious oppression in the Middle East.”
“As a result, several of DeKelaita’s clients were granted asylum and eventually permanent residency and citizenship status,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a release.
A federal jury convicted DeKelaita on Monday on three counts of asylum fraud and one count of perjury doing asylum interviews. The maximum punishment for the convictions is 35 years in prison.
In addition to DeKelaita, two Arabic and Assyrian translators have also been charged as conspirators in the scheme. Adam Benjamin pled guilty to to one count of conspiracy to commit asylum fraud last year and Yousif Yousif has pleaded not guilty to immigration fraud charges, according to the U.S. Attorney. Yousif’s is slated for trial later this year.
DeKelaita focused his work, according to the Chicago Tribune, on Christian Iraqis, winning asylum for “hundreds of Iraqi Christians facing potential deportation.”
Asylum is an immigration benefit granted to foreign nationals who have suffered persecution or fear future persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or social group in their home countries.