By Bitta Mostofi, Commissioner of the NYC Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs
The new year and new federal administration brought welcome news around immigration policy. President Biden and Congress have introduced new bills that would take important steps to fix our broken immigration system and offer stability, justice, and a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants in the country.
These are critically important developments and New Yorkers are right to be welcoming this news. At this moment, however, we must also caution New Yorkers to beware of what these new developments mean for themselves and their families to avoid immigration fraud. There are many ways to protect yourself and your loved ones.
Here is what New Yorkers need to know about avoiding immigration fraud.
There are no new visas or applications to fill out.
While we celebrate exciting developments in national immigration policy, New Yorkers should remember that as of now, there has been no change in law and therefore there are no new pathways to citizenship for which to apply.
Some immigration assistance service providers, such as notarios or dishonest attorneys, may try to take advantage of the confusion around this news by defrauding immigrant New Yorkers with applications for nonexistent visas or other legal benefits for which they are not eligible.
How do you get free, safe immigration legal help?
New Yorkers who have questions about the latest immigration policy developments can call ActionNYC at 800-354-0365, Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. to get answers and more information. ActionNYC offers City-funded, free and safe immigration legal help including comprehensive immigration legal screenings and legal representation in a network of trusted community-based organizations. Services are provided in your language and include referrals to other community-based resources and support services. ActionNYC services are available to all New Yorkers — your immigration status does not matter.
Only attorneys and accredited representatives, like those working for nonprofits in ActionNYC’s network, can give immigration legal advice or represent you in your immigration case. Scammers may promise green cards and other immigration benefits just to get your money. Some common examples are a notario or consultant who says they will help you and have an easy way to obtain a green card immediately — such as through the Biden administration’s new bills — or who claim to have special influence with immigration authorities. These claims should not be trusted. Attorneys and accredited representatives must always be honest with you about available options as well as risks — even if it is bad news.
Here are some other tips to help you avoid fraud:
- Make sure you do not sign any blank or incomplete immigration forms, and always read forms carefully before you sign. Remember, you are responsible for anything that is submitted to the government with your signature.
- Do not leave your original documents with anyone — instead, make copies.
- Make sure to get copies of all forms filed to the government on your behalf.
- Ask for a written receipt that includes the name and address of your provider and describes the services you receive.
- When in doubt, you can always get a second opinion.
Have you been the victim of fraud?
If you suspect that someone is trying to defraud you, you can file a complaint about them by calling 311 and saying “immigration service provider,” or by visiting the NYC Department of Consumer and Worker Protection website at nyc.gov/dcwp to file a complaint in your language. You do not have to give your name or immigration status to make a complaint.
For additional resources on how to avoid being defrauded, including a resource guide available in your language, visit nyc.gov/immigrantfraud.
As we continue advocating for critically important immigration policy changes, we want every New Yorker to be empowered by their right to seek and access trusted resources for the information and support they need.
This article originally appeared in the Queens Chronicle.