The Los Angeles Times is reporting that a San Gabriel immigration consultant and one of his employees have been sentenced to prison for filing fraudulent asylum applications on behalf of hundreds of Chinese immigrants.
Haoren Ma operated a consulting business called New Arrival Immigration Service. He was sentenced last week to 4 1/2 years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy, immigration document fraud and aggravated identity theft, said the U.S. attorney’s office. Ma and his employee were sentenced in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana.
The pair were accused of preparing and filing applications that made false claims of religious persecution. According to court filings, Ma and Dong told Chinese clients that the easiest way to win asylum was by claiming to be Christians, even when the clients were Buddhists.
The consultants allegedly coached clients on Christian beliefs and included false accounts of underground Christian church meetings and torture at the hands of Chinese authorities in asylum applications.
Authorities say Ma charged up to $6,500 for over 800 asylum applications since 2000. Many of the applications were successful, according to prosecutors.
The New York Times recently reported that in Manhattan’s Chinatown, it’s “widely believed … that the pews are full of as many nonbelievers as true believers.” Many congregants are at church to collect “attendance receipts” to help prove their Christian faith to asylum officers.
In late 2012, some eight lawyers and two dozen others were arrested on federal charges of filing false asylum claims on behalf of Chinese immigrants in New York City. Liying Lin, one of the defendants, gave paid lessons in the basics of Christianity to asylum seekers, coaching them on how to lie, prosecutors said. Most Chinese asylum applicants claim they were either forced to endure abortions or sterilization under China’s family planning laws or that they fear persecution based on their adherence to Christianity or their participation in banned political parties or spiritual movements.
The Times reports that today Chinese still represent a large percentage of the asylum applicants in the city and that federal asylum officers appear to regard the applicant pool with considerable suspicion. Last fiscal year, asylum officers around the country granted 40 percent of all Chinese asylum requests, according to government data. In New York City, asylum officers approved only 15 percent.
Read the entire story, and read a response by Laila Hass of Georgetown University Law Center, who sees the New York arrests as evidence not of widespread fraud but instead of the government’s anti-fraud safeguards at work.
Difficult Policy Issues
The potential for fraud in asylum applications exists in part because of how Congress has chosen to write U.S. refugee laws. For example, in response to China’s one-child policy, Congress in 1996 passed a law modifying the definition of who is a “refugee” entitled to asylum. The law was modified to include persons subject to forced sterilization or forced abortion, as well as persons who resist such measures. This (predictably) led to many claims by Chinese who argued that because they had more than one child they feared forced sterilization if returned to China. USCIS was then forced to evaluate these applications on a case-by-case basis. Compounding the burden on USCIS, some persons without a reasonable fear of persecution have applied just to get permission to work in the U.S. while their cases were pending. Sorting through the cases is not easy. Judge Posner of the Seventh Circuit has written that the entire endeavor is clouded by a “fog of uncertainty” about the true facts. Applicants whose asylum cases are denied by USCIS sometimes end up in court. While some courts have disposed of these appeals en masse, other courts have castigated the agency for not weighing the facts carefully enough.