Experts warn of immigration scam

DETROIT – Unscrupulous operators are misleading some immigrants in the United States into false hopes about their chances of being granted legal status in Canada, Detroit-area immigration advisers warned.

The tactics of those capitalizing on the hopes of such immigrants clearly run counter to Catholic teaching on the just treatment of migrants, said immigration attorney Viviana Lande, director of Community Immigration Legal Services for the Archdiocese of Detroit.

“The church abhors taking advantage of anyone’s desperation and lack of knowledge of immigration laws,” Lande said Oct. 4.

Not only are people being charged hundreds or thousands of dollars for inaccurate or misleading advice and for forms that are available free of charge, but they are unnecessarily incurring the cost of the trip to Canada and placing themselves in a worse position with U.S. authorities if they return to this country.

“This misinformation is harmful to families, and is a real tragedy,” Lande said.

She and others who work with immigrants are urging their counterparts in other parts of the United States to spread the word to be wary of misleading information concerning Canadian polices.

Lande spoke a day after Freedom House, a refugee shelter that occupies the former convent of Ste. Anne de Detroit Church, issued a statement deploring the use of its name and Web site by a Naples, Fla., group to lend legitimacy to such false hopes.

“While the false inclusion of Freedom House in the gross misrepresentation is unfortunate, the potential result to the individuals, families, mothers, fathers and children is tragic. The continuation of such dishonesty will not be tolerated,” said Pegg Roberts, executive director of Freedom House.

Citing an ongoing investigation by law enforcement, Roberts declined to name the Florida organization at the Oct. 3 press conference held outside Freedom House and within sight of the Ambassador Bridge linking the U.S. with Canada.

An earlier Freedom House statement and a published report in The Windsor Star had identified it as the Jerusalem Haitian Community Center.

Some refugees have arrived at Freedom House with inaccurately filled-out applications for Canadian refugee status, “sent by JHCC under false pretenses,” according to a Sept. 20 statement issued by Freedom House.

But the misinformation has apparently spread beyond Florida’s Haitian community, the immigration advisers indicated, because a number of Mexican immigrants have also been showing up at the Canadian border, thinking Canada has some sort of economic hardship provision for granting legal status.

Detroit immigration attorney Noel J. Saleh said some Haitians may qualify for refugee status in Canada, but only if they can show themselves to have a well-founded fear of persecution back in Haiti.

“They’re not being told everything they need to know, and there is the potential for that coming back to haunt them. The mere fact they’re from Haiti is not a guarantee they will be granted asylum,” he said.

“If you ran away just because the economic situation in Haiti is terrible and you wanted a better chance for yourself, you’re not going to qualify,” Saleh added.

One thing Haitians who enter Canada from the United States do have going for them is that Haiti is one of only a handful of countries whose citizens are allowed to apply for refugee status if they enter from a third country, he continued. Canada typically only considers refugee requests from people who arrive there directly from their home country.

Saleh further cautioned that persons who do not have legal residency status in the United States worsen their situation under U.S. law if they re-enter the country from Canada. He said consequences could include mandatory imprisonment and deportation.

As to where immigrants can go for reliable advice, Saleh recommended making sure it is an agency accredited by the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals. A current list can be found at www.usdoj.gov/eoir/statspub/raroster.htm.

Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.