By Rebecca Henely
City Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Sunnyside) announced a free legal clinic for victims of immigration fraud last week following action taken by the state attorney general to close down a fraudulent service operating in Queens.
At an English-Spanish press conference at Make the Road New York, an immigrant advocacy group in Jackson Heights, Dromm cited the attorney general’s recent closing of American Immigrants Federation, a Manhattan-based based nonprofit, which had more than 20,000 customers seeking legal status in the United States. AIF closed in April.
“The AIF scam is only the tip of the iceberg,” Dromm said last Thursday.
Dromm said he decided to hold the clinic after 13 people came to his office a few months ago, complaining of being defrauded of $3,000 to $7,000 by AIF, which had an office in Jackson Heights and which the state attorney general’s office was investigating at the time. The residents said AIF requested the money to expedite its immigration paperwork. When Dromm held a second meeting for the residents on immigration fraud, 12 more people had shown up.
“All the time this is happening,” he said.
According to court documents, AIF allegedly offered and sold false legal advice and services to immigrants, defrauding customers of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Estela Figueredo, who ran the nonprofit, settled with Andrew Cuomo’s office in exchange for shutting down all services and operations and paying $1.2 million in restitutions to those the AIF had defrauded, the attorney general said.
She is also permanently banned from working as a provider of immigration services.
Ana Maria Archila, co-executive director of Make the Road New York joined Dromm at the news conference. She said millions of immigrants in the city and across the country have been victims of immigration fraud and had been sold “the hopes of legalization and family reunification.”
She told immigrants to seek help in their efforts toward legalization from nonprofits that would lead them to the right places and ones that did not ask for money.
“It is not true that people can get out of being undocumented by paying thousands of dollars,” Archila said.
Dromm also warned immigrants that only attorneys — “abogados” in Spanish — can help them with becoming legal residents, while notaries — “notarios” — can only offer advice.
As part of the settlement with the state AG’s office, Dromm said the deadline for AIF victims filing for restitution is July 30, so the legal clinic Saturday will help those who need it to get their paperwork together before that time.
Dromm said untold numbers of people do not come forward when they suffer immigration fraud because they are afraid of the law and do not know they have rights. This clinic will empower immigrants by letting them know their rights.
“Immigration fraud can only exist because it exists in the shadows,” he said.
The clinic was scheduled to take place at Make the Road New York, located at 92-10 Roosevelt Ave. in Jackson Heights, Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The clinic is free and led by a lawyer. Information on how to recover funds and file a complaint against an immigration service provider will be offered. Participants are asked to bring a copy of their immigration file or any other documents, including those from immigration authorities. Spanish interpreters will be available.
Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4564.