By: Richard Hanus, Esq.
Published – January 23, 2023
People fleeing persecution in their homeland because of threats to their life or liberty and on account of their political belief, social group, race, religion or the like are eligible to seek protection in the U.S. by way of our asylum laws. The legal standards are stringent, and most of the time, that is just half the battle. Getting to the U.S. and having an opportunity to be heard and processed is the next challenge. Further, once in the U.S., finding competent, honest counsel to provide legal representation is yet another hoop immigrants must jump through. How complicated that latter challenge can be is illustrated by the recent federal criminal prosecution of two immigration lawyers in New York City charged with preparing fraudulent asylum applications on behalf of foreign nationals from Russia and other Eastern European nations.
The husband and wife immigration attorney team of Ilona Dzhamgarova and Arthur Arcadian conducted business out of Miami and Brooklyn law offices and were set to soon go to trial on immigration fraud charges. That plan appears to have changed as the couple are now prepared to enter pleas of guilty this week. These individuals along with a third accomplice provided their immigrant clients with fraudulent asylum statements and coached them on how to present themselves and testify at asylum interviews. Those statements included fabricated stories describing how their applicant clients were members of the LGBTQ community and were being threatened by government authorities in Russia, Ukraine and elsewhere due to their sexual orientation. Eventually, a sting operation involving undercover U.S. law enforcements agents posing as immigrants revealed the inner workings of this criminal enterprise, eventually leading to the indictments.
The asylum application process and unsuspecting foreign nationals have both always been vulnerable to immigration fraud and dishonest lawyers or “consultants” scheming to exploit immigrants anxious to establish their life here. The lure of the asylum process for criminal opportunists is premised on several factors, including immigrant desperation to acquire an employment authorization document and the relative ease with which pending asylum applicants are issued such documentation. The victims of these kinds of criminal enterprises are not just the duped immigrants. Also at stake is our nation’s asylum decision-making framework as well as legitimate applicants with solid claims whose cases may unnecessarily come under a cloud of suspicion due to the prevalence of fraud. Of course, not all of the immigrant applicants filing fabricated cases are innocent themselves, and how much responsibility is attributable to them varies case by case.
With civil strife rampant in so many parts of the world these days, the importance of our nation’s asylum laws and integrity of our system cannot be overstated. Extreme politics seems to endlessly feed off the topics of immigration and our borders, and the last thing our nation or legitimate asylum applicants need are dark clouds unnecessarily calling into question the credibility of people who are literally running for their lives.
PUBLISHED January 23, 2023 – “IMMIGRATION LAW FORUM” Copyright © 2023, By Law Offices of Richard Hanus, Chicago, Illinois