(This article originally appeared in the NYLAG Blog)
On the national front this has been a summer of disappointment, outrage and guarded hope for the rights of immigrant families living in our country. Comprehensive immigration reform seems like a distant memory, unaccompanied children are fleeing persecution only to be denied due process and fast-tracked into removal, while we must wait to see if President Obama can make good on his promise to do everything within his power to put potentially millions of people on the path to permanent legal status.
For New York State, however, this has been a season of progress in one very important area: combatting immigration fraud. Last week, Governor Cuomo signed legislation to strengthen laws against those who commit immigration assistance fraud, while earlier this summer Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced a fund to compensate immigrants defrauded by two now-defunct immigration service organizations.
Immigrant Assistance Service Enforcement Act
Many immigrant advocates including NYLAG supported the Governor’s new bill, which will help protect immigrants from being deceived or defrauded by individuals or organizations that promise immigration-related services but instead take their victims’ money and leave them vulnerable to deportation. The law sets clear standards for providers of immigration assistance and establishes strict penalties for those who violate the law, in particular anyone who purports to be an attorney but is not. The law has real teeth, creating two new crimes: felony and misdemeanor immigration assistance fraud.
$2.2 million Restitution Fund
The new fund was created by the Attorney General as part of a settlement of claims that two large immigration services organizations held out fraudulent promises of citizenship while engaging in the unauthorized practice of law. NYLAG has been appointed Administrator of the claims process, which will allow immigrant clients to submit claims for fees they paid to these organizations for immigration services that were never lawfully rendered. (With the claims process open until late October, in under two weeks NYLAG has already received 1,250 calls and 300 claim forms.) As part of the settlement, the organizations and their founder are prohibited from providing immigration-related legal services in the future.
Together, tougher laws and compensation for victims send a clear message to unscrupulous immigration services providers: New York State is serious about fighting immigration fraud with every legislative and legal weapon it has.