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How to Protect Immigrants from Fraud

Posted on May 24, 2018 by Catholic Charities Admin  |  Share

Schemers Prey on Immigrants’ Fears

By Raluca Oncioiu

Catholic Charities Director of Immigration Legal and Hotline Services

Immigrants today feel vulnerable.

Enforcement by this President’s administration has become more serious, often overreaching and frequently done without regard to the realities of families and workers. Immigrants need help and so, today, often will turn to lawyers or others who say they can solve their situation. What many do not realize is that there are offers of help from charlatans who falsely claim to be attorneys or experts in the field. They will take money, file a few papers, and then disappear.  

Take Mauricio, for example. 

Born in Ecuador, he needed representation in U.S. immigration court to avoid deportation. A friend introduced him to Angel Buitron, who said he was an attorney. Mauricio paid  Mr. Buitron more than $20,000, all in cash and with no contract. Then, one day, when he ran out of money, Mauricio went to a non-profit legal organization for help. That is when he found out that Mr. Buitron was not a lawyer but just posing as one. In fact, Mr. Buitron’s specialty was to take advantage of Ecuadorians like Mauricio.

Mauricio’s situation is one thousands of immigrants experience each year.

Fortunately, both New York State and New York City passed laws to support immigrants who find themselves the victims of hucksters.  The laws target schemers who prey on the fears and insecurities of some of our most vulnerable residents. In 2014 New York State passed the Immigrant Assistance Service Enforcement Act (IASEA) to protect immigrant communities from scammers not licensed to practice law yet charge thousands of dollars to provide “assistance” with green cards, work authorization, and immigration court. The hucksters’ goal is to turn a quick profit, regardless of the cost to the immigrant. Their “work” often places individuals and families at risk of deportation.

To support this new law and give recourse to immigrants who have been cheated and exploited, a group of non-profit providers, community organizations, immigration advocates and government and law enforcement agencies joined forces to create the Protect Immigrant New Yorkers Task Force (see www.protectingimmigrants.org). This coalition works to combat fraudulent schemes against immigrants and helps ensure immigrants have a way to report harm. It also includes outreach to immigrant communities, informational sessions for law enforcement and other stakeholders, and educational materials about schemes and patterns of abuse. Importantly, reports of fraud can be made anonymously to the New York State New Americans Hotline operated by Catholic Charities at 800-566-7636.Calls are handled in more than 200 languages. 

Fortunately, Mauricio called the NY State Immigration Hotline operated by Catholic Charities NY.

His complaint was referred to the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs, which started an investigation and filed a case against the fake attorney, Mr. Buitron. The good news is just last month the investigation resulted in a settlement with Mr. Buitron. He will pay $150,000 in fines and $34,050 in restitution to Mauricio.  Now Mauricio will be able to restart his immigration case with a reputable legal services provider such as Catholic Charities NY.

Published and available in Spanish in El Diario, New York’s premier Spanish-language newspaper

Contact Catholic Charities NY to report immigration exploitation and fraud

Call us at 212-419-3737 or toll-free in New York State at 1-800-566-7636

Raluca Oncioiu is Director of Immigration Legal and Hotline Services for Catholic Charities Community Services, NY

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