Some Queens Family Court judges have begun pushing back against young Punjabi men who they think may be looking for an improper shortcut to citizenship, the I-Team has learned.
In the newest examples in an alleged scheme the I-Team first uncovered more than a year ago, young men have been entering the U.S. on school trips to Disney, then hopping buses to New York and telling judges that they cannot return home because their family is abusing them.
Recently, at least one judge expressed skepticism that a family that abused its child would then send him on an all-expenses paid trip to Disney.
"Clearly a family that’s abusing their son is not paying for them to go to Disney World," said Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, responding to the I-Team’s newest discovery.
In a recent ruling obtained by the I-Team, Judge Nicolette Pach blocked a petition by a teenager named Amandeep Singh who went to Disney and then said he couldn’t go home because he was beaten by his father, forced to work and deprived of food back in India.
Judge Pach grew suspicious after receiving another case she called "curiously and remarkably similar" filed by a different young Punjabi man with the same lawyer. In her ruling, she called the similarity "disturbing."
In particular, she questioned why affidavits from two different people intended to corroborate Amandeep’s story contain the same exact spelling errors and grammatical mistakes. For example, both affidavits contained a line saying that the applicant’s father "is in habitual of heavey (sic) drinking.”
Amandeep’s lawyer, Tobin Kohane, told the I-Team that the similar wording was just a mistake by a translator.
“If this were fraud, wouldn’t one be careful about not using the same wording?” Kohane said. He added that many victims of abuse suffer similar hardships. That’s why their stories appear so similar in court, he said.
This year, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security opened a criminal investigation after the I-Team exposed a surge in cases from India.
The Department of Homeland Security is investigating whether there’s an organized racket in which Punjabi families are paying human smugglers to bring their sons across the U.S. border and hook them up with paid guardians from a Sikh temple in Richmond Hill, Queens. Some members of Congress insist this little known path to citizenship was intended for rare cases when an undocumented child is abused.
Homeland officials including Secretary Jeh Johnson have repeatedly declined to comment on the I-Team reports, saying they cannot discuss an ongoing investigation.
In a statement, Lou Martinez, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, said, “HSI is currently exploring any and all evidence of possible violations of federal law in regards to filing applications. At this time, the criminal investigation is ongoing and it will be inappropriate to disclose any further information.”
A source briefed on the probe tells the I-Team the investigation could result in criminal charges and multiple deportations.
Meanwhile, in Queens Family Court, there are hundreds of these similar special immigration requests on the calendar. In most cases the judges verify them even though they may suspect the tales of abuse are untrue. Previously, they have told the I-Team their hands are tied by the law.
The vast majority of the immigrants in these Queens cases are not using luxury teen tours to cross the border, according to sources, but the sources say enough are doing it for the courts to take notice.
Advocates for immigrants insist it’s extremely important to preserve the special pathway to citizenship in family court. They say the number of similar cases doesn't mean the claims are untrue.