The New York Times reports a major bust involving lawyers, paralegals, and even a church official who were allegedly helping Chinese nationals file fraudulent asylum cases.
The Times reports that 26 people, including six attorneys, were arrested in Chinatown and Flushing, Queens. They are accused of an elaborate scheme to help Chinese immigrants invent stories about persecution and dupe immigration officials into granting asylum. Some false stories describe persecution based on China’s one-child policy, including forced abortion. Others set forth claims based on religious persecution. Apparently, the asylum seekers aroused suspicion when Asylum Officers noticed that many of the stories were very similar.
In all, the conspiracy involves 10 law firms and as many as 1,900 asylum seekers. The conspiracy also allegedly involved at least one church official, Liying (pronounced “Lying”?) Lin. According to the Times, Ms. Lin, 29, trained asylum seekers in the basic tenets of Christianity. According to the indictment against her, Ms. Lin also helped her “clients” trick the immigration authorities and “trained asylum applicants on what questions about religious belief would be asked during an asylum interview and coached the clients on how to answer.”
This is not the first time that I’ve written about Lawyers and paralegals helping to create false cases, but it is the largest such bust that I’ve heard about. One question is, how pervasive is this type of fraud?
A professor of Asian-American studies and urban affairs at Hunter College in New York, Peter Kwong, told the Times that he believes most Chinese asylum cases in New York City were fraudulent. “This is an industry,” said Prof. Kwong, who has written widely on Chinese immigration. “Everybody knows about it, and these violations go on all the time.” While I would not be surprised if Prof. Kwong is correct, I would also not be surprised if he is over-estimating the number of fraudulent asylum claims.
The reason for the difficulty is that there is no data on false asylum claims. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence about false claims, but this is really not reliable. For one thing, some people with real asylum claims are duped by unscrupulous lawyers and paralegals into making false applications. For instance, I was recently consulted in a case where a Russian paralegal and attorney created a false claim for the asylum seeker even though he had a perfectly legitimate reason for seeking asylum. I suspect they created the false case because that was easier than preparing the actual case. So while the man’s case was false, he had a real claim for asylum (he lost his case and spent many thousands of dollars in the process).
Another reason why I don’t trust the anecdotal evidence on fraud is because cases are sometimes fraudulent in non-material ways. What I mean is, sometimes people lie about things that do not affect their cases. For example, I worked on a case where the applicant did not mention her husband on her I-589 form (which she completed and filed before she had a lawyer). She felt that she did not need to list him, as they were separated. The DHS attorney brought this up when he argued that the applicant was not credible, so it might have impacted the case (in the end, the IJ found her credible). The marriage did not relate to the primary basis for the application, and it was based on my client’s misunderstanding of the form. So, should this be considered a “fraudulent” case? I suppose it depends who you ask. The point being: When it is difficult to define fraud, it is difficult to characterize asylum cases as either fraudulent or non-fraudulent.
Although it is difficult to know the magnitude of the problem, it’s pretty clear that many asylum cases are fraudulent. The situation in New York is only the most recent illustration of the problem. So what’s the solution? I strongly believe that the government can do more to stop these fraudsters. I have seen enough of their work to know that they are not so smart and often not very careful (witness the Chinese case in NY where Asylum Officers detected the fraud when they noticed that many of the applications were suspiciously similar–in other words, the lawyers were too lazy and too cocky to bother making up unique stories for each asylum seeker).
Since many of these fake cases seem to originate with a (hopefully) small number of lawyers, paralegals, and translators, I believe the most effective solution is to investigate such people. DHS could send undercover “clients” to suspect attorneys to determine whether the attorneys are helping to concoct false cases. The “clients” could also visit paralegals and translators, who often work independent of attorneys, to see whether they are practicing law without a license. People who help create false cases should be prosecuted and jailed. Lawyers who engage in such behavior should be disbarred.
If DHS can bring more cases like the one in New York, it will help deter the paid “professionals” who create false asylum claims. It will also help preserve the integrity of the asylum system for those who need it.