[Stop-traffic] News/US: Immigrant smugglers, too, can need a lawyer's help

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Subject: [Stop-traffic] News/US: Immigrant smugglers, too, can need a lawyer's help
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Thu Nov 09 2000 - 11:11:14 EST

Immigrant smugglers, too, can need a lawyer's help
By Susan Sachs
The New York Times, September 23, 2000

To people familiar with the multibillion-dollar trafficking of human
lives and dreams, the operation described by federal prosecutors in
Wednesday's indictment of a Manhattan immigration lawyer sounded all
too commonplace.

The lawyer, Robert E. Porges, along with his wife and some employees,
were accused of aiding the "snakeheads," or smugglers, who illegally
transport Chinese men, women and children to the United States.

Describing the Porges law firm in Chinatown as a racketeering
enterprise, the government also charged that it was so intimately
involved in trafficking that it knew the names of illegal Chinese
immigrants before their smuggling ships dumped them off the American

For those Chinese who made it ashore undetected, the prosecutors
said, the firm arranged plane tickets to New York City and then
notified the smugglers so they could be sure to find the immigrants
and ultimately collect their fees.

Mr. Porges, 62, and others in his firm who are charged in the case
have pleaded not guilty.

Other immigration lawyers and advocates said they could not comment
on the specific allegations against the Porges law firm. But they
agreed that the cruel and sometimes deadly smuggling of humans was
big business and that like any multinational corporation, it employed
a many-tentacled network of lawyers, financial institutions and
subcontractors to operate smoothly.

As in organized crime or drug trafficking, experts say, part of the
overhead of doing business as a smuggler of immigrants is having a
friendly law firm on your side.

That smugglers have relationships with specific law firms is apparent
from the instructions given would-be immigrants from Fujian Province
in southeast China, the source of most recent illegal immigration to
the United States.

"When you're in Fuzhou, before you leave, you get a phone number and
you're told that if anything happens, call this number," said Peter
Kwong, a professor of Asian-American studies at Hunter College,
referring to the Fujian provincial capital. "And that number is the
lawyer's number, the one that the smuggler has a deal with."

In anticipation that some percentage of smuggled immigrants will get
caught and detained as they try to enter the country, the smugglers
in China even offer a discounted rate to their clients for any
necessary legal representation.

The reason is that the right lawyer can help a smuggler protect his investment.

For some immigrants, the contract with the smuggler may end upon
arrival in the city when their relatives here pay the remaining debt.
But others sign up on credit, promising to repay the $40,000 to
$50,000 price of passage after finding work in the United States.

If they are arrested before they can sneak into a city and begin to
work in the underground economy, they represent a potential loss of
profits for the smuggler unless they get released on bail or are
granted political asylum.

Under both options, the smuggling operation needs lawyers to keep an
immigrant in its grip.

"The critical point about the lawyer," Mr. Kwong said, "is that they
help keep control of a cargo that the smugglers don't want to be
mishandled or lost in passage."

When an immigrant-smuggling operation comes undone and the immigrants
are arrested, a lawyer can also file an application on their behalf
for political asylum. But legal aid lawyers dealing with asylum said
that they were constantly faced with situations in which a Chinese
detainee is too frightened of reprisals from the smugglers to deal
with anyone but a specific law firm.

Matt Walth, director of asylum and immigration issues at the Lutheran
Immigration and Refugee Service, said his organization ran into that
situation last year when it tried to provide lawyers to 89 illegal
Chinese immigrants who were being held in a prison in Ullin, Ill.

Officials of the Immigration and Naturalization Service had refused
to release the group on bail, arguing that the Chinese were at risk
of being abducted by agents of the smugglers who had transported them
from Fujian Province and forced them into indentured servitude.

The Lutheran group, which is based in Baltimore and provides free
legal help to immigrants, first talked to the detainees.

"None of them were signed up with lawyers at the time," Mr. Walth
said. "Within a week or so, when we started sending teams of
attorneys out there, all of the sudden we saw that there were
attorneys signed up to represent these individuals. So we asked the
asylum-seekers and they finally said, `We didn't hire anybody and our
families didn't hire anybody.' "

"That's kind of a microcosm of what happens," Mr. Walth added. "But
we wanted to give asylum-seekers an option to what we felt were the
smugglers' attorneys."

Eventually, Mr. Walth's group and other volunteer lawyers took the
asylum cases of several dozen of the Chinese and arranged for many of
them to be released to secret shelters in hopes that the smugglers
would not find them.

A few have been granted asylum; the rest are awaiting hearings.
Melanie Orhant
Stop-Traffic Moderator

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