The New York Times published a story over the weekend discussing asylum fraud in Chinatown, NY. The article spoke about the widespread fraud in asylum applications, with attorneys, clergy, and paralegals helping applicants fabricate stories to shore up their asylum applications. The fraud has led to the indictment of several people, including eight attorneys. The indictments came as the result of a federal investigation, which recorded several individuals coaching their clients. The fraudulent applications have led to severe backlogs at the asylum office in New York, with more than 7000 applications files in 2012.
What really surprised me that the majority of indicted attorneys still believe that they did not commit any illegal acts. They simply believed that they were helping these applicants stay in the United States. This is clearly a violation of the ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.2(d), which prohibits aiding a client in committing fraud.
Throughout my years of practicing immigration law, I have been asked to commit fraud by potential new clients and clients I represented. Usually, these conversations are very brief and end after I ask that person to leave my office or when I file a motion to withdraw if I am representing the person in removal proceedings or before the Service. I know that people would want to blame all lawyers for this conduct. However, like in other any profession, there are attorneys who choose to sell their reputation for money.
I am reminded of one of the last scenes of one of my favorite movies “A Few Good Men“, when one of the defendants asks the other “what did we do wrong?.” The answer was “we were supposed to help people who could not help themselves”. As attorneys, and particularly immigration attorneys, we are entrusted with helping the weak apply to stay in the Land of the Free. We have taken oaths that we would not take cases for personal gains. I believe that these attorneys should receive the strictest punishment available under the law. I will keep you updated on this case.