Archive for February, 2008

Using fake identification

Friday, February 29th, 2008


    I’m almost done with my month long duty as a member of a Grand Jury. Our job is to hear all the cases of this month and either indict the defendant or acquit so he/she can not be taken to trial.

      One of the cases we heard today involved an undocumented student who used the social security number of a deceased person in order to obtain federal loans. The student filled out the FAFSA with this information and signed it confirming that all the information on the form was legitimate.

        The department of education runs frequent checks to verify that social security numbers used to secure loans do not belong to deceased individuals. Once they detect an irregularity, that student gets “flagged”. Both the school for which the loans are being requested and the student are informed of the situation. The school can then request further proof that the student is in effect the owner of such social security number.  

          In this particular case brought to the Grand Jury, the student presented a social security card with the number in question (which belonged to someone else) and a fake birth certificate.

          The birth certificate was deemed fake because the agency that issued it verified that at the time of the student’s birth, the officer signing the certificate was not working in that office, and that the file number belonged to a different person.

            Although we raised the question that perhaps the student didn’t know that these id’s were fake (maybe the parents had supplied the student with them), the jury still voted to indict. Which means that this young person will be taken to trial.

              I know it’s very hard for students who have been brought illegally to the country by their parents when they were children to accept that they can not receive federal aid to go to college. But there are many other ways of paying for college without using fake identification. (There are scholarships being offered at many schools, and others available privately. Please read more about that in other articles on this blog.) The trouble you can get in for resorting to identity theft is absolutely not worth it. It may even cause your deportation!

              My New Book

              Friday, February 22nd, 2008


              I’m working on my new book and I need to interview people across the country about their college experience. 

              I want to hear from recent graduates and from people who have graduated a long time ago about your challenges and successes, your advice for college students, how having a college degree has impacted your career, etc.  

              If you or someone you know is interested in participating in my new book, which is scheduled to be published in Fall 2008, please send me a note with your e-mail address and I will send you the interview via e-mail.  

              You can also watch a video I made for You Tube on my page:

              I hope to hear from you!   

              What you don’t know

              Sunday, February 17th, 2008


              I constantly get e-mails from parents who have seen me on TV, heard me on the radio or read one of my columns and who are amazed to find out that there are ways to get money for college; or that their kids need to take preparation courses for the SATs; or that community involvement is one of the things that counts when filling both applications for scholarships and for universities. 

              Although this information is widely available through schools and the Internet, it is very common for parents to be unaware of it. As a result, they are less able to help their children through the process of succeeding in high school to make it to college.  
              So, here are a few things we could all do to help disseminate information to as many parents as we can:

              • When you find out something important/interesting, e-mail it to as many parents as you know. 
              • For those who don’t use the Internet, put the info in a one page “flier” and distribute to as many people as you can in your daily life. (School, church, work, library, etc.)
              • Whenever you come across links to organizations and programs that can help parents and students with: homework, tests, scholarships, applications, etc., forward these links to your contacts who have children. 
              • When you see, hear or read something in any media outlet than can be accessed later through the Internet, make your acquaintances aware of it. 

              Helping our community thrive will be an easier job if we all do it together. 

              Dress code

              Saturday, February 9th, 2008

              I’m sure you’ve heard many times how important it is to dress conservatively when you interview for a job. It has a purpose: to show respect for your interviewer and to show you in a professional light.

              As I mentioned in a previous blog, I’m in court every day on jury duty. I’m a member of a grand jury which hears several cases in each session and then votes for or against indictment. The process is simple: the assistant U.S. district attorneys briefly present each case,  they bring a witness, then the jury debates in private. If we have further questions, we ask the lawyer in the case to bring back the witness and ask the questions. Then we deliberate some more and finally we vote.

              It has surprised me how poorly dressed the witnesses are for a court environment. They are detectives and officers of different government agencies (U.S.marshals, immigration, police, etc.) and they wear jeans and sweatshirts and overshirts and sneakers.

              I find that their carelessness sends a message of disrespect to jurors –who are asked to dress conservatively– and it is also a commentary on what this process is all about.  A one sided view of the case with the assistants U.S. district attorney bringing evidence against the defendants and the jurors not having a real way of weighting the evidence that is being presented.

              These witnesses seem to have no need to impress because they are taking for granted that their expertise and their word is enough to indict on “probable cause”, the standard in a Grand Jury versus “beyond reasonable doubt” needed at a trial.

              No matter what the occasion is, the way you dress always sends a message to others. Disrespect and contempt is not one you want to send lightly.


              Our duty

              Tuesday, February 5th, 2008

              I got called for Jury Duty and reported yesterday. Although I thought I had perfect reasons to be excused, when the time came to give my reasons to the judge, I decided to stay quiet.

              Twenty people got up to offer theirs: no child care, their jobs wouldn’t pay for missed work days, back problems that wouldn’t allow them to sit for long hours.  The prospect of commuting for an hour and a half into downtown Manhattan for a lengthy trial had given me insomnia for a week, but now that I was there, I suddenly realized I wanted to go through the experience.

              In 20 years of living in this country and 10 as a citizen, I had never served in a jury.  Every step of the process was new and interesting. Even noticing that the judge presiding on my case was a delightfully sensitive man, unlike what I was expecting after years of Law and Order and Boston Legal and all the other legal shows. 

              It felt good to put any other commitments aside and fulfill my civic duty. It reminded me that this country is built on these little sacrifices we all make. 

              What the future will bring

              Saturday, February 2nd, 2008


              Most of the time, if you pay attention to what is happening around you, you can tell where the jobs are going.

              For example, you may have noticed that at Home Depot, Ikea and many supermarkets, there is now an automatic checkout option. Little by little, as other retailers pick up on the technology, human cashiers will be replaced and their jobs eliminated. So if this is your line of work, you may want to think about your next career move!

              Or, you may have noticed that the Internet has changed the way in which the news are presented and discussed. If you work for a media company, you must know how to blog, how to produce videos for the Internet, how to capture the short attention span that goes hand in hand with this medium. If you don’t evolve, take courses, keep up to date, you will be replaced by someone who does.

              The emphasis in the environment is unlikely to go away. All the new technologies connected with alternative energy along with all sorts of programs to reduce our footprint on the environment will offer great career potential for many years to come. Just as the new discoveries in genetic engineering.

              My point is that, although we are navigating some difficult economic times, there are always wonderful career opportunities out there. Reading a combination of newspapers, scientific magazines, and general interest publications will help you figure out what way the market is going, and what adjustments you need to make to stay a step ahead of the competition.