New York law firm accused of putting immigrants into pipeline to deportation

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NEW YORK – Twenty six individual plaintiffs and Make the Road New York, an organizational plaintiff, have filed a lawsuit against the law office of Thomas T. Hecht P.C., Thomas T. Hecht, Leonard Hecht and Luis Guerrero, accusing them of defrauding immigrant parents of children who are U.S. citizens and putting them in the pipeline for deportation, according to a press release.

The complaint alleges that the lawyers at Thomas T. Hecht P.C., aided by a tax preparer and a translation service, defrauded New York immigrants out of thousands of dollars by convincing them to pay for non-existent types of immigration relief that actually put each of them on the path to deportation proceedings.

“This suit takes aim at a widespread fraud that is devastating to longtime members of New York City’s immigrant communities and sends a strong message that attorneys cannot take advantage of immigrant families with impunity just because they lack immigration status,” said Rehana Jamal, of the Kathryn O. Greenberg Immigration Justice Clinic at the Cardozo School of Law (Cardozo).

The lawsuit alleges that Hecht and company used their positions to prey upon immigrant plaintiffs and took advantage of their trust, lack of legal expertise, and inability to read English in order to financially profit and told their clients that they could simply apply for and obtain green cards or other forms of lawful status through mechanisms that do not exist under current U.S. immigration law.

The most common form was the “Ten Year Scheme,” where the Hecht attorneys told potential clients that they were eligible for work authorization and/or lawful status based on the fact that their children are U.S. citizens and can prove ten years of residence in the United States.

The Hecht attorneys represented the process as a simple affirmative application despite, knowing that there is no such affirmative immigration application and instead filed asylum applications on the plaintiffs’ behalf without their knowledge or consent.

The Hecht attorneys knew that filing these asylum applications would start a process that could ultimately result in their clients being put into deportation proceedings, and separating them from their homes, their communities and their children who are U.S. citizens.

“Our community is under attack from all sides. As an undocumented person, I sought the help of the Hecht Law Firm because I was tired of police harassment and living in fear of ICE, but the remedy was worse than the sickness. The Hecht Law Firm knew the oppression we face and that we are not experts in immigration law – they took advantage of us to make a profit,” said Martin Torres Reyes, a plaintiff and member of Make the Road New York.

According to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) data from November 2006 through early 2017, the Law Office of Thomas T. Hecht P.C. had filed over 1,000 asylum applications since November 2006, with over 960 of them still pending.

“Applying for asylum carries serious risks and consequences because it may lead to an applicant’s deportation from the country. The attorneys at the Hecht law firm applied for asylum on behalf of the plaintiffs without establishing that they qualified for asylum and without even telling them about the applications. With this lawsuit, we seek to redress the harm to the plaintiffs and deter other individuals from defrauding immigrants desperate to obtain lawful immigration status in the U.S.,” said Abena Mainoo, a partner at Cleary Gottlieb.

“In a city that is home to millions of immigrants, predatory practices such as these will not stand. We commend Make the Road NY for their efforts and will continue to partner with them to ensure all immigrants know their rights. All workers and consumers are protected by our laws regardless of immigration status and anyone in search of more about information should reach out to the Department of Consumer Affairs,” said New York City Department of Consumer Affairs Commissioner, Lorelei Salas.