Laws Grant Authority to Nation’s First-Ever State Immigration Integration Office, the New York State Office for New Americans
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that, starting today, individuals and entities who defraud New Yorkers seeking immigration-related assistance will now be subject to felony and/or misdemeanor charges. Previously, there was no law specifically protecting newcomers from fraud, scams and exploitation. With the implementation of this law, immigrants will now benefit from additional requirements for those providing them with assistance as well as stronger consumer disclosures.
“Today, New York State is taking an important step to protect those who come here in search of a brighter future,” Governor Cuomo said. “These new laws will protect individuals and families from immigration assistance fraud, and allow the State to aggressively crack down on those who would rob others of the opportunity to pursue the American dream. I am proud that these new laws are taking effect today, because they will help New York continue to welcome people of all races, cultures and nationalities for years to come.”
Each year, New Yorkers are victimized by con artists posing as immigration attorneys or authorized immigration representatives by charging fees for 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 either 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. Oftentimes, victims are so negatively impacted by these scammers that they permanently miss important immigration opportunities that would otherwise help them.
In addition to creating immigration assistance fraud in the first and second degree as new and distinct crimes under the Penal Law, the new laws also strengthen consumer protections by enhancing translation requirements, barring the use of misleading job titles in signs and advertisements, and increasing civil penalties for violations of existing consumer protection laws.
Immigration assistance fraud is an under-reported crime in the United States. According to the Federal Trade Commission, more than 890 complaints of immigration services fraud were made in the United States in 2013, 100 of which were lodged in New York State through the FTC and the New York State New Americans Hotline. Government officials and immigration advocates expect an increase in fraudulent activities targeting immigrants as Congress renews its debate regarding federal comprehensive immigration reform.
The new laws also set specific statutory authority for the New York State Office for New Americans, the first state-level immigration integration office in the country. Governor Cuomo launched the Office in 2013 with the goal of offering additional support to the immigrant population. In its first two years of operations, the Office helped over 67,000 people through 27 neighborhood-based Opportunity Centers and a toll-free multi-lingual hotline (800-566-7636). The Opportunity Centers teach New Americans English, assist them in the process of becoming naturalized U.S. citizens, help immigrants start and grow businesses, and offer training to community-based organizations so they can offer immigration services.
These additional protections are part of a comprehensive effort to fight immigration assistance fraud in New York State, including:
- Launching a multilingual public service campaign warning immigrants against fraud;
- Expanding the New York State New Americans Hotline (800-566-7636) to serve as a resource to coordinate immigration assistance fraud complaints and offer service referrals;
- Expanding free immigration law training to help local immigrant-serving not-for-profit agencies become federally accredited to provide related services;
- 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. Complainants will not be asked about their immigration status in these cases.
The new laws and efforts to fight immigration assistance fraud build on previous State regulations, adopted in 2012, that protect New Americans from individuals fraudulently claiming to be notaries public. These regulations prohibit notaries public from advertising their services using foreign language terms that falsely represent or imply that they are duly licensed attorneys authorized to practice law or authorized to provide immigration advice.
As Attorney General, Governor Cuomo also worked to combat immigration fraud, having utilized general civil rights laws to successfully investigate and prosecute companies for defrauding immigrants. He also secured court judgments and settlements in excess of $23 million dollars on behalf of the State's immigrant population. Combined with today's new laws, prosecutors now have even stronger tools to investigate and prosecute immigration assistance fraud.