Con artists and scammers have apparently seized on the recent, high-profile deportations of immigrants in the US in order to rip off people afraid of being detained and removed from the country.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman issued an urgent fraud alert on Thursday, warning immigrant communities in the state about reports of fraudsters impersonating Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to intimidate immigrants and demand money.
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"It is unconscionable for scam artists to prey on heightened fear in our immigrant communities by pretending to be ICE officers and demanding that families pay up in order to avoid deportation," Schneiderman said in a statement.
"I urge communities to protect themselves by learning about these potential scams – and contacting my office if they suspect fraud. We will continue to use all of the tools at our disposal and bring to justice those who commit fraud against our immigrant communities."
A statement from the New York attorney general's office said it had received reports of calls and in-person inquiries made by people claiming to be immigration officials.
"For example, one immigrant living in Queens was approached by four men dressed as ICE agents," the statement said. "The purported ICE 'agents' told the man that he was going to be detained unless he gave them all of his money."
The attorney general's office has provided several ways to report potential fraud — Attorney General's Immigration Services Fraud Unit Hotline at (866) 390-2992 or email Civil.Rights@ag.NY.gov — and states that it will never inquire about the immigration status of those who contact the office.
Immigration officials across the US have stepped up their enforcement in recent weeks. These actions have attracted criticism and, in some areas, public protests.
Last week, ICE agents stopped and detained several Latino men leaving a church shelter in northern Virginia. This week, ICE agents detained a 23-year-old Mexican man in Seattle who was in the country under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, known as DACA.
In the latter case, ICE has claimed the man had gang affiliations, but has declined to say how it knows that. The man's representatives have vehemently denied alleged gang involvement.
In Denver, a Mexican mother of four has taken sanctuary in a church to avoid deportation after ICE officials denied her a "stay of removal."
In light of this increased enforcement, the New York attorney general's efforts to get people in targeted communities to come forward about fraud may get little response. Despite promises to not reveal the immigration status of people reporting crimes, undocumented people and others in the immigrant community are likely to be wary of interacting with authorities.
In a case that may only deepen that suspicion, an undocumented woman in El Paso was detained by ICE agents after she obtained a protective order alleging that she was the victim of domestic abuse. ICE agents may have detained the woman on a tip from her alleged abuser, who was already in custody.
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