Hundreds of immigrants have been left without Argentine citizenship following the discovery of a case of fraud within the federal court in Córdoba.

The case concerns at least 400 people, about 200 of whom are thought to be of Chinese origin, innocent parties who believed for years that they had earned their Argentine DNI and passport legitimately after coming to live and work in the country they now call home. Despite having fulfilled all of the requirements of Law 346, one of the two laws governing citizenship in Argentina, and having taken an oath before a judge, they have now had their documents rescinded, and through no fault of their own.

From what has been uncovered so far, the fraudulent operations involve a court clerk from Córdoba’s Federal Court No. 1. Olga Liliana Borneo Santillán has been accused of suppressing and forging public documents, as well as acting as a ‘participant in ideological falsehood.’ In many cases, she allegedly forged the signature of Judge Bustos Fierro, who was in charge of the court at the time, and, on multiple occasions, she falsified a public prosecutor’s signature too.

In simpler terms, this means is that the documents used to provide affected individuals with their citizenship permits were created in an illegitimate manner and any documentation that includes Borneo’s signature is therefore invalid in the eyes of the law. Borneo is now facing a suspended prison sentence of three years and a disproportionately low fine of 70 pesos.

Deborah Huczek, a lawyer representing one of the victims in this case, has told Infobae that the accused clerk was forging signatures “for four years at a rate of 100 citizenship permits per year. For a provincial court, that’s just too much. How could it have gone unnoticed?” Each file is supposed to be checked over by a judge and secretary to ensure that it complies with the requirements.

According to Infobae, Huczek believes that there is no doubt that the false documentation was given out in exchange for money: “My client went to pay 4000 or 5000 pesos to the Chinese representative. We don’t know whether some of this money went to that woman but she surely did not do it for free.”

For many of the victims, including Huczek’s client and the other 200-odd people originally from China, this is not simply a case of losing their Argentine citizenship and falling back on their previous nationality. Many Asian countries have laws forbidding dual nationality and as a result, in order to gain Argentine citizenship over a decade ago, the individuals were forced to give up their previous citizenship.

So – you guessed it – these individuals have been left ‘stateless’; they do not officially belong to any country. And instead of being provided with legal support by the Argentine State, as victims of a fraudulent scheme, they are now being threatened with deportation, drawing outrage in light of Argentina’s constitutional promise to welcome and provide rights to immigrants.

Wei Jia, Huczek’s client who has now become stateless after 11 years of holding an Argentine DNI, was arrested at the National Immigration Office for using “false documentation” after he went to enquire about why his citizenship had been cancelled. He was detained for two days, required to pay a fine of 100,000 pesos and “behavioral guidelines were imposed on him as if he were a criminal.”

His lawyer explained that the Argentine immigration authorities are planning to deport 50-year-old Wei Jia, but they do not yet know where to send him since he is no longer a citizen of China.

“He owns a supermarket in Recoleta, as well as another property, and his son is even Argentine. He went to vote. He has complied with all the obligations of a citizen,” she added. For Wei and his lawyer at least, their legal fight now seems to be a race against time, despite the fact that “international laws say that they shouldn’t be able to take his citizenship from him” as he acted in good faith.