Immigration scams linked to debate over reform: official
Updated: 2014-01-30 11:13
By Amy He in New York (China Daily USA)
Immigration-related scams in New York City are on the rise - and New York State immigration officials blame media attention given to debate over the government's pitch for immigration reform legislation.
"We started seeing conversation on the federal level regarding immigration reform, and that's really when we saw an uptick in people calling us with complaints about having been scammed," Jorge Montalvo, director of the New York State Office for New Americans (ONA), an immigration information center, told China Daily in an interview.
In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Obama urged lawmakers from both of the major parties to work together to draft legislation to solve immigration-related problems.
When immigration reform is in the news, scammers call immigrants, saying they can get them "immigration documents" for a price. Immigrants unwittingly pay for these services but never hear from the scammers again, Montalvo said.
To combat the swindlers, ONA - launched last March by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo - has a hotline in place to help immigrants learn more about naturalization and the immigration process. It offers assistance in more than 200 languages, including Chinese, Spanish, French, and Arabic, and operates five days a week from 9 am to 8 pm.
"We are pleased that the New York State New Americans Hotline is helping so many immigrants as they transition to fully participating in New York State's civic and economic life," said New York Secretary of State Cesar A. Perales, who oversees ONA, in a statement. "The hotline is an important source of information for immigrants and others who seek immigration and naturalization assistance."
The Chinese immigrant community in New York City, according to the ONA, made about 1,400 calls to the immigration hotline in 2012 and 2013 combined. About half the calls are from English speakers and half are from Mandarin and Cantonese speakers, Montalvo said. Chinese callers are the ninth most frequently calling immigrant group, he said.
Most immigrants sought information on how to file a petition to allow relatives to come to the US, as well as information on citizenship and the naturalization process. Others wanted to know how to adjust their immigration status.
"Maybe they're here on a visa, and they want to become a lawful permanent resident, so they want to get a green card. Or if they're undocumented and they're a young person, they want to get Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals," he said, referring to a measure which allows some undocumented young people to stay in the country and get work permits.
There are 13 ONA Opportunity Centers in New York City, and 27 in New York State. Across the city, some ONA centers targeting the Chinese and Asian communities are based within community organizations such as the Chinese-American Planning Council in Manhattan and the Flushing YMCA in Queens, New York.
"We have fliers [about ONA] that we have in multiple languages," Montalvo said. "We work through community-based organizations to send this information out to the public. They're our cultural brokers. These are people in the community who are trusted. They know where people are and how to get to them," he said. "They know best."
The ONA centers provide free services, such as teaching English to immigrant communities and providing legal consultation for those interested in the naturalization and immigration processes.
(China Daily USA 01/30/2014 page2)