New York, NY - July 21, 2014 - Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced a settlement agreement shuttering two of the nation’s largest immigration services organizations, and their principal. The organizations and their principal defrauded immigrants with false promises of citizenship and residency, engaged in the unauthorized practice of law, illegally charged exorbitant fees for services, and violated laws governing not-for-profit corporations. The agreement brings to a close a lawsuit that had been filed against the two New York City organizations , the International Immigrants Foundation, Inc. (“IIF”) and the International Professional Association, Inc. (“IPA”), both 501(c)(3) entities, and their President Edward Juarez.
In addition to shutting down both organizations, the settlement requires that all remaining assets of the entities, approximately $2 to $3 million, be used to provide restitution to immigrants who were defrauded or overcharged by the organizations, with any amount remaining going to organizations providing immigration legal services. IPA will shut down immediately. IIF will shut down over the next two years, and is prohibited from providing immigration legal services during that period. In addition, the agreement prohibits the organizations' former President, Edward Juarez, from engaging in immigration legal services or serving as a fiduciary for any not-for-profit corporation in New York or any entity that solicits charitable contributions. The agreement is subject to final approval by the court.
“In shutting down organizations that defrauded thousands and obtaining restitution for the victims, justice has been done for many immigrant communities of the State of New York,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “Organizations like IIF and IPA prey upon vulnerable individuals who seek a better life in this country, siphoning their hard earned money and sometimes destroying chances to regularize their legal status. My office is committed to eradicating fraudulent immigration services scams that prey on the hopes and dreams of immigrants in our State."
Immigration fraud is a stain on the inclusive values that have made New York home to more immigrants than any other city in the nation – individuals and families who have contributed so much to our culture and our prosperity,” said Yisroel Schulman, of the New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG), Administrator of the Restitution Fund. “NYLAG is proud to be able to continue to play a role in bringing at least a small measure of justice to those who have been harmed – and shining the light on the continuing travesty of immigration fraud.” The Attorney General's Office will soon issue a statement providing information on the restitution process, and outline the process for submitting claims and supporting documentation for restitution.
The Attorney General’s lawsuit alleged that IIF and IPA misrepresented their ability and qualifications to provide immigration-related legal services, made false promises guaranteeing specific legal results, and illegally charged excessive fees for their services. In addition, the lawsuit alleged that the entities and Mr. Juarez violated various laws governing the operations of not-for-profit corporations by wasting the entities’ assets and engaging in self-dealing transactions. The Attorney General's Office found that IIF lured immigrants to purchase “memberships” with the organization by promising members they would receive special privileges such as free or low cost legal fees. Individuals were required to pay a $100 registration fee plus $30 per month. Once members requested legal representation, however, they were directed to IPA, where they were generally required to pay at least several thousand dollars more to have immigration papers prepared and filed - often by non-attorneys who were unqualified to do such work.
The illegal actions of IIF and IPA caused disastrous - and sometimes irreversible - problems for New York’s immigrant families. In addition to paying substantial fees, clients were put at risk of permanent damage to their and their families' status as a result of receiving incorrect immigration-related legal advice. IIF and IPA solicited victims through newspaper advertisements, articles, conferences, and television and radio shows, amassing thousands of clients for this scheme.
In one instance, an individual 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 to them. Other clients were subject to deportation. Others paid thousands of dollars more than necessary for services.
New York State law prohibits a non-lawyer from practicing law, appearing as or purporting to be an attorney-at-law, or providing legal advice of any kind. Non-lawyers can only provide clerical services, such as translating or mailing documents, unless they have been accredited and their organization has been recognized by the federal Board of Immigration Appeals. IIF and IPA engaged in all such prohibited conduct. Further, by charging excessive fees for the services purportedly provided, IIF and IPA acted inconsistently with the charitable purpose for which they were formed, in violation of the New York State Not-For-Profit Corporation Law.
Angela Fernandez, Esq., Executive Director of Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights, said, “This settlement agreement sends the message loud and clear to fraudulent immigration services providers that the unauthorized practice of law will not be tolerated. The Attorney General’s ongoing effort to combat immigration fraud continues to protect immigrant communities throughout this State, and warns other would-be predators that the costs of such illegality will be high.”
To date, the Office of the Attorney General has conducted numerous investigations and filed several lawsuits against organizations that have engaged in the unauthorized practice of law and defrauded immigrant communities, helping to shutter fraudulent businesses across the state.
The case against IIF, IPA, and Mr. Juarez is handled by Assistant Attorney General Anjana Samant and Chief Kristen Clarke of the Civil Rights Bureau, as well as Assistant Attorney General Steven Shiffman, Enforcement Section Chief David Nachman and Chief James Sheehan of the Charities Bureau. The Executive Deputy Attorney General of Social Justice is Alvin Bragg and the First Deputy of Affirmative Litigation Janet Sabel.
The Attorney General's Office is committed to combating unlawful immigration service’s fraud carried out by organizations and individuals. If you have been a victim of immigration fraud, please contact the Attorney General’s Immigration Services Fraud Unit Hotline at (212) 416-6149 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are in need of an attorney or BIA-accredited representative in an immigration matter, please contact either the New York State Bar Association at 1-800-342-3661 (nysba.org) or the American Immigration Lawyers Association at 202-507-7600 (aila.org) for a referral. Depending on your income, you may be eligible for low-cost or free immigration legal services.