October 25, 2018

NYS Office for New Americans and Division of Consumer Protection Issue Warning About Immigration Scams

NYS Office for New Americans and Division of Consumer Protection Issue Warning About Immigration Scams
In wake of sweeping anti-immigrant federal policies, scams involving unqualified legal service, non-existent “10-Year” Visa processes, ICE impersonators on the rise

New York Secretary of State Rossana Rosado is alerting immigrants living in New York State about potential scams and fraudulent practices taking place within the immigration legal system, where unsuspecting residents seeking citizenship are preyed upon. The fraudulent acts –involving offers of non-existent visa processes and costly-but-unqualified legal services – often target New Americans with limited English proficiency.

“During this critical time when immigrants are under assault by the federal government, all New Yorkers need to stand together to thwart the opportunists who seek to capitalize on the plight of those seeking citizenship,” said New York Secretary of State Rossana Rosado, who oversees the New York State Office for New Americans (ONA) and the State’s Division of Consumer Protection (DCP). “These horrific acts of fraud not only rob hardworking New Yorkers of their money; they demoralize immigrants from pursuing their American dreams and too often, squelch these dreams completely.”

DCP & ONA continue to receive reports of scammers attempting to take advantage of immigrants. Among the scams taking place:

“10-Year” Visa or “Hardship” Scams: There is no such thing as a “10-Year” Visa. If a lawyer advertises a pathway to legal permanent residency under a “10-year” Visa, they are promoting a two-step process that generally involves a meritless asylum application, which would likely put the immigrant in deportation proceedings and a process known as “Cancellation of Removal.” “Cancellation of Removal” may allow undocumented immigrants who are in removal proceedings to obtain a green card if they meet certain criteria:

  • Continuously lived in the United States for a minimum of 10 years before the initiation of the immigration proceedings
  • Have no criminal record
  • Have a Green Card-holder or U.S. citizen spouse, parent, or child who would suffer exceptional or extremely unusual hardship if the undocumented immigrant was deported from the United States

However, the “Cancellation of Removal” process is highly risky and extremely difficult to win. A scammer purporting to represent the individual’s best interests in such a situation may not inform them that by simply appearing in a removal proceeding, the individual risks deportation if they lose. Immigration judges have the sole discretion to grant “Cancellation of Removal,” regardless if an immigrant under removal proceedings meets the statutory requirements.

Notary Public Fraud: In many Spanish-speaking countries, a Notario Público is an attorney. In New York State, Notaries Public may certify identities and signatures but they may NOT represent an individual before U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), in immigration court, or give legal advice. If a Notary Public offers to represent an individual in an immigration proceeding, it is an attempted scam.

Immigration Service Providers: If an immigration service provider offers to help an individual get permits or other services quickly and for high fees, consumers should be wary. Immigration service providers may assist with clerical services, such as filling out immigration forms or translating documents. However, New York State law prohibits immigration service providers from giving legal advice, threatening to report an individual, promising special favors, or charging a referral fee for locating someone qualified to help or represent an individual.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Impersonators: There have been reported instances where fake ICE agents approach an individual and demand money to avoid deportation. Official ICE agents will never ask for money or threaten detainment or deportation if an individual does not pay them.

USCIS Fake Websites: The use of any website that mentions being affiliated with USCIS should be verified. Fraudulent sites purporting to be official government service providers will often charge fees for forms that are available free of charge through official government websites. The easiest way to verify the site is to check if address includes “.gov,” as only official U.S. and state government websites can use “.gov.”

Demanding Cash for Services that are Never Provided: Such scams involve service providers promising to perform services in exchange for cash – and then never doing the work once payment has been made. This scam is compounded by the fact that many immigrants, particularly undocumented immigrants, often do not have access to bank accounts and pay cash without getting a receipt.

ONA and DCP help immigrants from falling victim to scams through the following efforts:

ONA Hotline 1-800-536-7636: The free hotline is available from Monday through Friday from 9AM to 8PM and can help New Americans in more than 200 hundred languages. Hotline experts assist eligible immigrants in connecting with a team of experienced immigration lawyers through the Liberty Defense Project, which provides free immigration law consultations to newcomers, and technical legal assistance to immigrant service providers across New York State.

DCP Consumer Helpline 1-800-697-1220: The DCP Consumer Helpline offers safe, direct assistance for any New Yorker, irrespective of immigration status, who believes they have been treated unfairly while in the marketplace.

Partnering with Law Enforcement: ONA and DCP work with law enforcement entities to crack down on scammers who take advantage of New Yorkers seeking to adjust their immigration status by charging exorbitant fees or engaging in the unauthorized practice of law.

Assisting New Yorkers Without Citizenship: New York State helps immigrants identify and collect documents needed to demonstrate eligibility for immigration status adjustment by partnering with the Consulate Generals of the nations’ representing the State’s immigrants.

Working with Other Agencies and Nonprofits: ONA and DCP continue to work with other government entities and nonprofit organizations, including Catholic Charities, to drive a multi-lingual media campaign to ensure that New Yorkers have accurate, up-to-date information about changes in federal immigration policies.