There has been a significant increase in the number of calls to immigration organizations, including inquiries regarding potential fraud. For example, since the election, the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights has seen a 266 percent increase in the number of daily calls and 250 percent increase in number of daily walk-ins; on November 10thalone, the organization reportedly received over 100 calls. NYC council members, in response, have introduced a bill aimed at preventing non-attorneys from providing fraudulent and/or unauthorized immigration legal services in New York City.
Immigration fraud typically involves individuals or companies who target vulnerable immigrants by providing unauthorized and fraudulent immigration services. It affects large segments of communities from around the state.
New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman issued a fraud alert last week, warning immigrants to be aware of potential scammers offering immigration services, preying on the increased fear and anxiety in immigrant communities as a result of the current political climate. In recent weeks, the Attorney General’s office and many legal aid organizations that work with immigrant communities have received an increased number of calls and reported scams.
“In the past two weeks, we’ve seen intense fear and anxiety in immigrant communities. New York has zero tolerance for anyone who would prey on that fear to defraud immigrants and their families,” AG Schneiderman said. “We will use all the tools at our disposal to bring to justice those who commit fraud against our immigrant communities.”
On Monday, Nov. 20, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a three-fold civil rights initiative: the creation of a State Police unit to investigate reports of hate crimes, an expansion of the state’s human rights law to protect all students, and the establishment of a new emergency legal defense fund for immigrants—the first of its kind in the nation. Lauded by Steven Choi, executive director of New York Immigration Coalition, the immigration initiative will be administered by the state’s Office for New Americans and be run in partnership with major colleges and universities, as well as law firms, legal associations and advocacy organizations.
“This is a huge step for New York’s four million immigrants,” said Choi, “at a time when the Coalition’s members and their constituents face widespread fear and anxiety about the future.” Speaking at an earlier press conference in NYC, announcing the aforementioned bill, Choi said, “President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to deport millions of immigrants and communities are terrified about what’s to come. In such a climate of fear, this opens up opportunities for unscrupulous individuals to take advantage of immigrants by promising relief, permanent residency, or citizenship that they cannot actually provide.”
According to the AG’s office, one of the most common scams right now is unsolicited calls from fake immigration officials. In one instance, a fraudster told an immigrant he was in the country illegally and must immediately pay $1,550. Federal authorities will never demand immediate payment, request personal sensitive information, or threaten you over the phone. If you receive a call like this, hang up immediately and report the possible fraud to Schneiderman’s office via the Attorney General’s Immigration Services Fraud Unit Hotline at (866) 390-2992 or email Civil.Rights@ag.ny.gov.The AG’s office will never ask for your immigration status or share immigration information with federal authorities if you contact the Immigration Services Fraud Unit Hotline.
Victims of crimes may contact the New York State Office of Victim Services, which funds 223 programs statewide, providing direct services, such as crisis intervention and counseling, to victims of crime, including hate crimes.