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Feds crack down on Flushing asylum mill

TimesLedger Newspapers

Queens residents made up half of the 26 people charged last week with helping Chinese immigrants lie in order to obtain asylum in the United States, a federal prosecutor said.

Thirteen people working as translators, lawyers, paralegals and even an employee of a church in Flushing figured prominently into a three-year investigation by federal prosecutors, where law offices fabricated tales of religious, ethnic and other forms of persecution to prevent their clients’ deportation, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan.

Proof of persecution is a requirement for anyone seeking asylum in the country, according to court documents.

All were charged with either conspiracy to commit identity fraud or varying levels of identity fraud, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said.

“Our asylum laws exist to provide a safe haven in the United States to immigrants subject to persecution in their own countries for exercising freedoms fundamental to a democracy,” he said, adding that the defendants allegedly wove “elaborate fictions on behalf of hundreds of would-be asylum seekers, coaching them on how to lie on their applications, stepping in when they went off script and lying to immigration judges at court hearings.”

The 26 defendants were charged in nine indictments, and in each case law firms in Flushing and Manhattan would fabricate the stories and do the paperwork in exchange for money from the asylum-seekers, according to Bharara.

One law firm in downtown Flushing, which was previously in Manhattan, had submitted 260 asylum applications on behalf of its clients since 2011, according to the indictment.

Freddy Jacobs, of The Law Office of Freddy Jacobs, and an office manager named Fnu “Daisy” Yang, allegedly followed the same modus operandi as the other defendants, and if convicted could face up to 25 years behind bars, the indictment said.

They would create stories for their clients to memorize that fell into broad categories, including tales of a woman who had forced abortions under China’s one-child policy, or asylum-seekers who claimed to be persecuted Christians, members of China’s Democratic Party or practitioners of Falun Gong, according to one of the indictments.

Translators sent with clients for interviews with immigration officials would sometimes correct a client’s speech if the asylum-seeker veered from the agreed-upon narrative. If an asylum-seeker was unfamiliar with the Christian religion, Yang would sometimes send them to a nearby church for instruction, the office said.

An employee of The Full Gospel Church in Flushing, Liying Lin, was charged in a separate indictment with holding biweekly sessions at the house of worship to train asylum-seekers in exchange for donations, the indictment stated.

She would brief clients on what kinds of questions they would be asked about religious persecution and how to answer them, according to prosecutors, and for extra cash would provide baptism documents to immigration officials.

If convicted, she could face a total of 35 years in prison, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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