On Feb. 2 a new law went into effect in New York state protecting immigrants from fraud.
The Immigrant Assistance Service Enforcement Act (IASEA) creates new protections and rights for immigrants seeking legal assistance. It also creates new penalties and restrictions against those who seek to defraud immigrant New Yorkers.
Fraud potentially harms immigrants’ future ability to qualify for immigration benefits. It often can put immigrants at risk of deportation. Immigration assistance fraud is an underreported crime in the U.S.: According to the Federal Trade Commission, more than 890 complaints of immigration services fraud were made in the U.S. in 2013. Of those, 100 were lodged in New York alone.
Immigration fraud typically is carried out by dishonest consultants known as notarios. The new legislation in New York clarifies that notarios cannot advise someone regarding their immigration status and how to answer questions on forms. It also enforces that only attorneys and Board of Immigration Appeals accredited representatives can provide legal services.
IASEA also protects immigrants through several other important provisions.
Office for New Americans
The Immigrant Assistance Service Enforcement Act makes the New York State Office for New Americans, first launched in 2013, a permanent state agency to help members of immigrant communities access legal services, learn English and prepare for the U.S. citizenship exam. The office also will address the concerns of immigrant communities across the state, including concerns related to fraud. And it will help immigrants start and grow businesses that help integrate immigrants into communities across New York and offer training to community-based organizations so they can offer immigration services.
New Americans Hotline
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo reports that since 2013, the Office for New Americans has helped more than 67,000 people through 27 neighborhood-based opportunity centers and a toll-free multilingual hotline. IASEA builds capacity for this hotline for reporting immigration fraud. The hotline number is 1-800-566-7636.
Felonies and Fines
IASEA raises the maximum penalty for violating the provisions on providing immigrant assistance from $7,500 to $10,000. It also creates felony and misdemeanor immigration assistance fraud in the first and second degree, two new and distinct crimes under the Penal Law.
Other services, such as translation and document gathering, are subject to strict consumer protection rules. IASEA strengthens consumer protections by enhancing translation requirements, increasing civil penalties for violations of existing consumer protection laws, and barring the use of misleading job titles in signs and advertisements for immigrant legal services.
Last but not least, this legislation creates a private right of action so that immigrants themselves can take scammers to court.