In a press release from the FBI, 26 people have been charged by federal prosecutors with filing hundreds of asylum applications that included false claims of persecution. Of the 26 charged, 21 were from 10 law firms in the New York City area. Of the 21, six of them are lawyers.
On Tuesday, 21 of the defendants were arrested by detectives from the NYPD and FBI agents. Authorities said that two more are going to surrender on Wednesday and three are still at large.
The false claims of persecution were submitted by the suspects, who also provided asylum applications educational info about their claims and even coached the applicants to lie during interviews with immigration officials.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara stated in the press release, “Our asylum laws exist to provide a safe haven in the United States to immigrants subject to persecution in their own countries for exercising freedoms fundamental to a democracy. As alleged, these defendants, including six attorneys and a church employee, exploited those laws by weaving elaborate fictions on behalf of hundreds of would-be asylum seekers, coaching them on how to lie on their applications, stepping in when they went off script, and lying to immigration judges at court hearings. Asylum fraud imposes a tremendous burden on the system and it also makes it more difficult for those who are legitimately seeking refuge in this country.”
The law firms operated in Chinatown and Queens. The firms created stories of persecution that related to claims of forced abortions performed in conjunction with China’s family planning policy. Other claims included persecution for believing in Christianity and claims of ideological and political persecution.
Following the completion of the applications and the coaching to lie, translators were sent with the applicant to their interviews. The translators were provided by the law firms and they would provide incorrect translations when the applicant would answer a question. Prosecutors said that when an application was denied, an attorney from a firm would represent the client at a hearing in front of an immigration judge. Those arrested will appear in federal court in Manhattan this week.
FBI Assistant Director in Charge George Venizelos said in the press release, “The defendants allegedly conspired criminally to exploit the safe haven our nation provides for asylum-seekers. They aided and abetted immigrants in falsely claiming to be victims of persecution. Some of the defendants are officers of the court who have violated the canons of their profession as well as the law. Others, including a church employee, used religion like a fake passport or phony ID—a perversion of religious freedom. The FBI is committed to policing unscrupulous exploitation of the asylum process.”
The defendants have been charged with conspiring to commit immigration fraud. Five defendants have been charged with substantive counts of immigration fraud and two defendants have been charged with identity fraud in connection with the sale of fake Chinese birth certificates, according to the press release.