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For Immediate Release:
September 18, 2014
Contact:
Laz Benitez/Edison Alban (NYS Office for New Americans) 212-417-5803
Paul Costiglio (Catholic Charities) 646-823-1175
Thanu Yakupitiyage (New York Immigration Coalition) 212-627-2227, x235

 

New York State’s Office for New Americans Showcases Comprehensive Initiative
to Combat Fraud Against Immigrants Across New York State

Anti-fraud Efforts Complement New Legislation signed by Governor Cuomo to protect immigrants

The New York State Office for New Americans and several committed partners today highlighted a comprehensive initiative launched by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo to protect immigrants from fraud and exploitation. This initiative comes on the heels of legislation recently signed by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo mandating stricter requirements for immigration assistance providers and tougher charges and penalties to discourage immigration assistance fraud.

“Alongside our dedicated partners through the various components of this initiative, we will work hard to ensure that immigrants understand their rights and are protected from those who prey upon them,” said New York Secretary of State Cesar Perales. “We are taking proactive steps and empowering our immigrant communities through legitimate services to create a safe and fair economic landscape that will benefit every New Yorker.”

“Scam artists exploit immigrant communities all too frequently,” said District Attorney Vance. “Some defendants falsely represent themselves as attorneys able to assist with immigrations matters. Others steal from specific targets, while some even choose to prey on members of their own community. Each shares a willingness to take advantage of individuals who are new to this country and struggling to navigate a complex legal and social services system. Strengthening laws against immigration fraud empowers prosecutors to better protect New York’s immigrant communities and serve any person – regardless of immigration status – who believes that he or she may have been the victim of a crime.”

Con artists posing as immigration attorneys or authorized immigration representatives victimize thousands of New Yorkers in our state each year by charging fees for immigration assistance services that are never provided. Commonly recognized forms of immigration scams include: false promises of permanent U.S. residency and citizenship; preparation of applications for immigration benefits by unqualified individuals or those engaged in the unauthorized practice of law; sale of immigration forms that are available for free; false impersonation of immigration officials; and unwarranted threats of deportation. At times, victims are so negatively impacted by these scammers that they permanently lose out on important immigration opportunities.

This comprehensive effort to fight immigrant fraud includes:

  • Launching a multilingual public service campaign warning immigrants against fraud

  • Signing legislation making it a felony to commit immigrant assistance services fraud (https://www.governor.ny.gov/press/08062014-immigration-assistance-fraud)

  • Expanding the New York State New Americans Hotline (800-566-7636) operated by Catholic Charities to serve as a resource to coordinate immigration assistance fraud complaints, as well as offer service referrals

  • Helping local immigrant-serving not-for-profit agencies become federally accredited to provide certain immigration services by expanding free immigration law training

  • Strengthening enforcement against the unauthorized practice of immigration law by enhancing coordination between the Attorney General, District Attorneys’ offices, local government consumer affairs departments and federal agencies through complaint referrals

"Catholic Charities has long welcomed and protected the newcomer,” said Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, Executive Director, Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of New York. “Through the New Americans Hotline, we continue to provide timely information and referrals for those needing a range of help: legal representation, family reunification and unfortunately, protection from exploitation. This new law provides an enhanced opportunity for Catholic Charities in partnership with New York State to protect immigrants – always with dignity and compassion.”

“We applaud Governor Cuomo for launching a multipronged initiative to help protect New York State's immigrant communities,” said Steven Choi, Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition. “The NY Immigration Coalition has worked closely with the Department of State and the New York State Office for New Americans to pass the Immigrant Assistance Service Enforcement Act; we have formed a task force to address issues of notario fraud, and we are educating the public on the dangers of fraudulent immigration practitioners. We look forward to continuing that work to ensure that New York’s immigrant communities have access to legitimate legal services, and can then thrive and contribute to our state.”

“At USCIS we see firsthand that impact scams have on the American dream,” said Phyllis A. Coven, USCIS New York District Director. “We will work together at the federal, state, city, and grassroots level to fight those who take advantage of immigrants for their own personal gain – this initiative is a testament to that collaboration and commitment.”

Immigration assistance fraud is an under-reported crime in the United States. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), more than 890 complaints of immigration services fraud were lodged in the United States in 2013. There were more than 100 complaints lodged in New York State through the FTC and the New York State New Americans Hotline in 2013. Government officials and immigration advocates expect an increase in fraudulent activities targeting immigrants as Congress renews its debate regarding federal comprehensive immigration reform.

This initiative complements immigrant assistance fraud legislation signed by Governor Cuomo earlier this year that increases civil penalties for violations of the law, and bars the use of job titles that aim to mislead an assistance-seeker into believing that a service provider is an attorney or otherwise accredited professional when the provider has no such credential. It also creates two new crimes, felony and misdemeanor immigration assistance fraud, as well as other consumer protections.

“Opportunity and fairness are among our most cherished values and we must uphold the promise of our State and the rule of law in dealing with those who prey on New Americans,” said Jorge I. Montalvo, Director of the New York State Office for New Americans. “I applaud Governor Cuomo’s continued effort to confront this problem with deliberate, proactive, and effective action.”

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