Federal prosecutors notched three more convictions this week of defendants accused of filing false asylum claims for immigrant clients. That brings the total to 30.
On Tuesday, a jury in Manhattan federal court found Ling Liu, Vanessa Bandrich, and Rui Yang guilty of conspiracy to commit immigration fraud. The three were arrested in the December 2012 FBI sweep that targeted lawyers and staffers suspected of coaching Chinese immigrants on how to lie about their past to be eligible for asylum.
According to prosecutors, Liu ran two law firms that helped immigrants craft asylum-friendly stories about suffering persecution in China. Bandrich was a lawyer at one of those firms and Riu was on office worker who helped prepare the asylum applications.
The FBI’s three-year investigation led to indictments against employees at 10 law firms that combined to file nearly 2,000 asylum applications, though law enforcement officials stated that they didn’t know how many of those were fraudulent. Most of the defendants were arrested in Manhattan’s Chinatown.
The services the law firms provided cost thousands of dollars, a price many were willing to pay for the potentially life-changing benefits. Those who receive asylum can immediately work in the country and are eligible for a green card after a year. Those who had been here illegally become legal residents. The cost and the risk might seem trivial when staring at the long and complicated legal immigration process.
As last week’s feature story, “Asylum Insanity,” explained, an immigrant can end up in trouble even while pursuing the legal asylum procedure. “A process created to save innocent lives has come to embody some of the worst aspects of American immigration policy: The nation’s system of mass deportations and incarceration has devastating consequences for vulnerable individuals who seek nothing more than safety and a new beginning,” Keegan Hamilton wrote.
America is not quick to grant asylum. In New York, more than 80 percent of asylum-seekers from Chine were denied last year. For many, the legal paths into permanent residency appear hopeless. The immigration system, most everyone agrees, is broken. There is less agreement on how to fix it. In the meantime, an underground market bloomed.
The three defendants each face a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison. Their respective sentencing hearings are scheduled for July and August.