Federal prosecutors have charged 26 people, including 21 employees at 10 New York City-area law firms, with filing hundreds of asylum applications containing false claims of persecution.
Six of those charged are lawyers.
FBI agents and NYPD detectives arrested 21 of the defendants Tuesday, and two more will surrender tomorrow, officials said. Three others remain at large.
According to court papers, the suspects submitted false claims of persecution, provided asylum applicants educational materials relating to their claim, and coached the applicants to lie in interviews with immigration authorities.
The law firms, based in Manhattan's Chinatown and in Queens, made up stories of persecution that typically related to claims of forced abortions performed pursuant to China’s family planning policy, persecution based on the client’s belief in Christianity, and claims of political and ideological persecution, prosecutors said.
“The defendants allegedly conspired criminally to exploit the safe haven our nation provides for asylum-seekers," said FBI Assistant Director George Venizelos. "Some of the defendants are officers of the court who have violated the canons of their profession as well as the law.”
After the applications were prepared and the clients were coached how to lie to immigration authorities, translators provided by the law firms usually accompanied the client to the interview and would falsely translate any of the applicant’s answers which were inconsistent with the fabricated story.
If an application was denied, an attorney from the law firm would prepare and represent the client at a hearing before an immigration judge, prosecutors said.
The defendants taken into custody will appear in federal court in Manhattan today and tomorrow.