At a time when many states have chosen to enact legislation to drive away immigrants, the State of New York is taking significant steps to create a welcoming environment for immigrants. On August 6, 2014 Governor Cuomo signed legislation designed to improve the provision of immigration-related assistance in the State of New York. One of the primary goals of this legislation is to better protect immigrants from potential fraud and misconduct from individuals who prey on immigrant communities. This legislation created stricter assistance-provider requirements including ensuring only attorney and non-attorney representatives authorized by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) can provide legal services, enhancing translation requirements, increasing civil penalties for violations, and prohibiting the use of titles designed to mislead the immigrant into believing the provider is an attorney or specialized professional.
Not only did this legislation enhance requirements on the provision of immigration-related services, but also created the new criminal offense of “immigrant assistance fraud”. The addition of these criminal offenses to the Penal Law are important as individuals who engage in “immigrant assistance fraud” often engage in conduct that jeopardizes an immigrant's future ability to qualify for immigration benefits and places the immigrant at risk of deportation from the United States while at the same time extracting significant sums of money from hardworking individuals. Under the amended Penal Law “immigrant assistance fraud” can be either a Class A misdemeanor or Class E felony depending upon whether the fraud involved less than $1,000.00 or more than $1,000.00. These new crimes will allow law enforcement to specifically target those who prey on immigrant communities.
Another key component of this legislation is the designation of the New York State Office for New Americans as a permanent executive office. The Office for New Americans was established in March 2013 by Governor Cuomo to provide support to New York State's immigrant population through the creation of opportunity centers, increasing access to English language and civics classes, connecting immigrants to business resources such as job training, developing and capitalizing on immigrants' skills, maximizing the number of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, strengthening connections between immigrants and communities, preventing the fraud directed at immigrant communities, and providing State resources to better aid immigrants. The Office for New Americans has already helped over 34,000 immigrants since its inception. More information on the New York State Office for New Americans can be found at http://www.newamericans.ny.gov/.