Kaweah Nation says reputation tarnished by phony representatives

By Oskar Garcia
Omaha, Nebraska (AP) 9-07

A non-federally recognized tribe accused of scamming illegal immigrants says it has been undercut by others who are fraudulently using the tribe’s name and pitch.

In a twist that adds another layer to its controversial practice of offering tribal memberships to illegal immigrants with the promise of legal status, a spokesman for the Kaweah Indian Nation said that others are selling tribal documents without being part of the tribe.

The Wichita, Kan.-based tribe, which is facing charges in Texas and Kansas, maintains that it has not sold memberships for thousands of dollars, as immigrant advocates have reported. Kaweah officials have said about 10,000 people nationwide have become members under the proposal.

More have applied and are awaiting memberships, tribe spokesman Manuel Urbina said.

In Nebraska, an estimated 1,000 to 2,000 illegal immigrants had signed up with the tribe, Nebraska Mexican-American Commission spokesman Angel Freytez said.

“They’re still doing it because they know it’s an easy scam, because they’re targeting undocumented workers,” Freytez said.

But Urbina said that others purporting to be tribal members opened up shop in another part of Nebraska, selling immigrants on the tribe’s promise while keeping the money for themselves.

Urbina said they have heard of specific instances of a woman selling the memberships but have been able to find her. He says the Kaweah are now taking the heat.

“They were doing it under the table – we didn’t know anything about them,” Urbina said.

The twist means some immigrants sold on the idea that becoming tribal members will give them legal status don’t even get the tribal documents that federal authorities say are themselves useless.

Immigration authorities have said becoming a member of a tribe gives no protection against deportation. A lawyer for the Washington-based National Congress of American Indians has called the Kaweahs “a total sham.”

The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs said in 1984 that the Kaweah group was not a real tribe and denied it federal recognition. A Kaweah tribe did exist once but is unrelated to the one that applied for recognition.

The Kaweah group was charged lrecently by the Texas attorney general for allegedly charging up to $400 for memberships and the guarantee of a Social Security number. The tribe is also being investigated by the U.S. attorney in Kansas. The Nebraska attorney general was not planning to investigate because it is a federal issue, a spokeswoman has said.

Eduviges del Carmen Zamora, an El Salvador native and a secretary of the tribe, was indicted during August on four immigration-related offenses after allegedly driving 40 illegal immigrants from Long Beach, Calif., to Wichita, where they attempted to get Social Security cards.

Her husband, Angel Zamora, a Guatemalan native who worked in Wichita as a janitor, faces similar charges.


On the Net:

Bureau of Indian Affairs:

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services:

Kansas U.S. Attorney’s Office: http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/ks/