Fearing Scams, NY Plans to Protect Young Undocumented Immigrants

New York is launching a program aimed at protecting young undocumented immigrants from being exploited by scam artists when they begin to apply for temporary work permits next month under President Barack Obama’s new immigration policy.

Some 90,000 young undocumented immigrants may be eligible for deferred action, which allows those who were brought to the U.S. as children to apply for relief from deportation and a two-year work permit.

“Many of these young people will be defrauded,” New York Secretary of State Cesar Perales said. “We’ve seen immigration scams very frequently in the past. What we want to do is offer an alternative.”

New York State Department of State is coordinating bar associations to expand access to pro bono attorneys who will help young people prepare applications for deferred action

The guidelines will be issued sometime before August 15, the first day applications will be accepted, federal officials said.

The state will also give one-year grants of $150,000 to four community organizations so they can hire attorneys to handle the applications.

Perales said two grant recipients will likely be in New York City, one in the Westchester area, and one serving the upstate area.

Separately, an established multi-lingual hotline will begin to offer information on deferred action, and plans to issue regulations making it harder for notarios, Spanish for notary, to deceive public by holding themselves out to be attorneys.

Immigration scams performed by notarios have been ubiquitous in New York and other parts of the country for many years. In some Latin American countries, a notario is a lawyer. Though that is not the case in the United States, some immigrants have been unable to make the distinction and consequently defrauded.

“We’ve already started seeing, ‘They’re trying to get you in the door. Let’s talk about deferred action.' Everybody that’s legitimate knows there’s no instruction on how to file yet,” said Jason Abrams, former co-chair of committee on unauthorized practice of law at the New York Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers’ Association.

Marisa Paul, 25, from Queens, came to the U.S. from Trinidad when she was 15 and is among those waiting to file her application.

“I felt like a fugitive,” Paul said. “At any given moment anybody could have came up to me and asked me for documents that I didn’t present to them.”

In March, after an application to legalize her status failed, Paul was told she would be deported. She bought an airplane ticket for July 1, but her deportation was stopped after the announcement on deferred action.

In order to be eligible for deferred action, immigrants had to have come to the U.S. before they were 16, resided here for at least five years, not be older than 31, not have committed a serious crime and meet certain education requirements.