Fighting Immigration Fraud in NYC

At the April 2 briefing: (from left to right) MOIA Commissioner Nisha Agarwal, MOIA Assistant Commissioner Kavita Pawria-Sanchez, Raluca Oncioiu from the Catholic Charities Community Services and Maryann Tharappel from New York Legal Assistance Group  (Photo by Jehangir Khattak for Voices of NY)

At the April 2 briefing: (from left to right) MOIA Commissioner Nisha Agarwal, MOIA Assistant Commissioner Kavita Pawria-Sanchez, Raluca Oncioiu from Catholic Charities Community Services and Maryann Tharappel from New York Legal Assistance Group (Photo by Jehangir Khattak for Voices of NY)

President Obama’s immigration relief action may have been temporarily blocked by a Texas judge, but the city of New York and nonprofit organizations working with the city are proceeding with efforts to offer free legal screening and advice to immigrants, so as to be ready, says Nisha Agarwal, commissioner for the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA), to implement the president’s program once it is upheld.

In addition, as Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYS Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced on April 2, a joint task force to be led by MOIA and the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs will work to uncover and fight immigration services fraud.

Both for the sake of their own applications for immigration relief, and to help others, immigrants should take advantage, Agarwal said, of hotlines to report abuses and fraudulent practices by unscrupulous “notarios” and others operating within immigrant communities. The Attorney General’s Immigration Services Fraud Unit Hotline is 866-390-2992.

“They can just screw up your immigration case,” Agarwal said at an April 2 briefing organized jointly by MOIA and the Center for Community and Ethnic Media. The briefing, for the community and ethnic media in the city, was held at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

“We are getting the word out that there are trusted places to obtain information,” said Agarwal, whose office is promoting the first of many planned free legal screenings around the city on April 12 at Temple Emanu-El at 1 East 65th St.

Individuals can register for the screening by calling 212-419-3700. The screening will evaluate individuals’ eligibility for either the expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program or the new Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program. A supervising staff member will then provide an assessment of precisely which options the individual may qualify for. All the immigration attorneys at the screenings will be from nonprofits.

“It’s a way to receive advice in a free, safe environment,” said Maryann Tharappel, staff attorney for immigrant protection at the New York Legal Assistance Group, who also spoke at the briefing at the CUNY J School.

It is estimated that registration for the free legal screening will take 10-15 minutes (hence the suggestion that people pre-register by telephone), the screening itself, in which documentation will be reviewed, about 30 minutes, and the assessment about 15 minutes. MOIA, which will be sponsoring the April 12 screening along with the NYS Office for New Americans and Catholic Charities Community Services, estimates that 800-1,000 people can be screened during an all-day screening event.

Also at the briefing, Agarwal spoke about the success to date of the IDNYC effort, reporting that more than 100,000 municipal ID applications have been processed. She said there will soon be new locations for people to apply for the card, including pop-up sites that will travel to different neighborhoods to accept applications.

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