Immigration centers accused of defrauding clients

The News Leader

January 14, 2010 4:09:08 PM PST
Two immigration services organizations allegedly defrauded immigrants with false promises of citizenship, engaged in the unauthorized practice of law and illegally charged exorbitant fees for services. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo filed lawsuits Thursday against the International Immigrants Foundation, the International Professional Association and their president, Edward Juarez. All operated in New York City. The two organizations are both not-for-profit, which generate millions of dollars in revenue each year.

Cuomo says he wants to prevent these organizations from continuing their fraudulent practices and seeks restitution for victims.

"These businesses make millions of dollars by exploiting the dreams of New York's immigrant community," Cuomo said. "By lying about their ability to provide legitimate legal services, these organizations threaten to devastate families and their hopes of a new life."

Cuomo's lawsuit alleges that the organizations misrepresent their qualifications to provide immigration-related legal services, falsely promise specific legal results and illegally charge excessive fees for their services. Specifically, they allegedly lure immigrants through newspaper advertisements, articles, conferences and television and radio shows to purchase a "membership" with their organization by promising that members receive special privileges including free or low cost legal representation.

Membership costs include a $100 registration fee and dues of $30 per month. However, members are then charged at least several thousand dollars more to have immigration papers prepared and filed. They also provide members with their "International Citizen Photo Identification Card," which they falsely claim guarantees legal representation and provides special privileges if the member is detained by law enforcement agencies.

Authorities say that in one instance, an individual who followed the organizations' advice was detained, and the organizations never appeared to represent him. Another member was eligible to obtain a Green Card, but lost his opportunity due to the organizations' delay and negligence, despite paying more than $18,000 in fees and costs.

Other clients were subject to deportation due to inadequate or negligent legal representation.

If you have been a victim of immigration assistance fraud, please contact the Attorney General's Immigration Services Fraud Unit Hotline at (866) 390-2992 or visit AG.NY.Gov.