[Stop-traffic] News/USA: NEW YORK LAW FIRM ACCUSED OF AIDING IMMIGRANT SMUGGLERS.

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Subject: [Stop-traffic] News/USA: NEW YORK LAW FIRM ACCUSED OF AIDING IMMIGRANT SMUGGLERS.
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Tue Nov 14 2000 - 09:16:49 EST


9-21-00 USA: NEW YORK LAW FIRM ACCUSED OF AIDING IMMIGRANT SMUGGLERS.
By SUSAN SACHS.
NEW YORK - Federal prosecutors on Wednesday accused one of New York City's
busiest immigration law firms of working hand in hand with the smugglers
who bring illegal immigrants from China and then keep them as virtual
indentured servants in the United States until the price of their passage
is repaid.
In two indictments filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, the
government described the Manhattan law firm of Robert E. Porges as a
racketeering enterprise and accused Porges; his wife, Sheery Lu; and six
current and former employees of receiving $1.2 million in fees from unnamed
smugglers over the last seven years.
Mary Jo White, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York,
said that in return for that money, the firm acted as an adviser to
smugglers, even suggesting the best points of entry into the country to
avoid detection and arranging transportation to New York City for
immigrants who had succeeded in sneaking into the country by land or sea.
She also said some law firm employees, mainly under the direction of Mrs.
Porges, helped the smugglers seize the illegal immigrants upon arrival in
the city and hold them as "hostages" until the $40,000 to $50,000 they had
promised to pay for their passage was paid.
After a brief hearing following the unsealing of the grand jury
indictments, Porges, 62, was released and given two weeks to post a $2
million bond on behalf of himself and his wife. She was ordered held until
the bond was posted.
No pleas were entered at the hearing, and Porges did not speak to
reporters. He appeared pale and shaken.
Nicholas Kaiser, his lawyer, said, "We're confident that after a speedy
trial, Mr. Porges will be shown to have represented his clients honestly
and ethically for over 40 years."
Although the law firm and some of its employees are accused of having
direct contact with smugglers and helping them "abduct" illegal immigrants,
no one is named in the indictment as a smuggler.
White said that at least one person already convicted of immigrant
smuggling in the last few years was connected to the Porges firm.
But she refused to provide specifics or explain the genesis of the case.
She would not say whether any more people would be charged with smuggling,
abducting or holding immigrants hostage in connection with the case.
Many of the Chinese men and women who enter the United States illegally end
up in New York sweatshops and restaurants, where they work long hours in
sometimes dangerous conditions for years to pay back the smugglers - often
referred to as "snakeheads" - who brought them from their homeland.
Failure to pay the snakehead or attempts to escape from a smuggler's
control can bring retribution against family members back in China,
according to social service groups and academics who work with Chinese
immigrants.
The central figure in the case is Mrs. Porges, 47. Prosecutors called her
the "chief of staff" of the operation and charged her with aiding
snakeheads in the kidnapping of 17 Chinese immigrants since 1997.
Her husband, however, who has represented Chinese immigrants in many of the
country's highest-profile asylum cases, was not accused of participating in
the seizure of immigrants who owed money to the smugglers.
"Mr. Porges worked as much as possible from behind the scenes," White said.
"Porges' wife allegedly functioned as the enterprise's chief of staff and
liaison to the Chinese community."
Others charged with membership in the racketeering operation are Rity Sulan
Peng, 26, a paralegal; Heidi He, 34, the law firm's office manager; June
Liu, 37, a translator; Jin Wen Shan, 37, a member of the support staff; and
a staff member identified only as Michael, whose last name was not known by
the prosecutors.
A separate indictment charging two former law firm employees with aiding in
immigrant smuggling named Peng and Jeffrey Tse, 45.
Porges, while charged with racketeering, is mainly accused of directing his
staff to concoct stories of past persecution on behalf of clients who were
seeking asylum to legally remain in the United States.
Immigrants, even those who arrive illegally, are entitled to request
political asylum on the ground that they would face persecution if forced
to return home.
The Porges firm, which employed about 40 lawyers and paralegal workers,
handled thousands of such cases over the years. Robert Porges represented
many of the Chinese who survived the Golden Venture shipwreck off the
Rockaway peninsula in Queens in 1993 in their asylum applications, as well
as some of those who were caught off the coast of New Jersey in 1998 after
their smugglers' boat ran aground.
He also represented several Chinese teen-agers abducted from foster homes
in Seattle in 1995 and held for ransom in connection with an unpaid debt to
a snakehead. At the time, an Immigration and Naturalization Service
official credited Porges with reporting one of the kidnappings to
authorities.
The indictments came after a 30-month investigation led by the INS.
The commissioner of immigration, Doris Meissner, described the indictments
as a significant blow to the multibillion-dollar business of smuggling
illegal immigrants. The accused lawyers and legal assistants, she said, may
be "Manhattan attorneys in three-piece suits, but the people indicted today
are just as ruthless and unscrupulous as the snakeheads with whom they
collaborated for profit."
The Porges law firm was accused of receiving direct payments from unnamed
smugglers and receiving about $12 million since 1993 from about 6,000
asylum seekers whose applications, according to the indictments, contained
false information.
That number does not represent all the asylum cases handled by the firm,
according to INS officials, and not all of the Porges cases are suspect.
But the issue of how lawyers help and even coach an asylum seeker - as
Porges is accused of doing - to make a case is sensitive.
Most immigration lawyers, as well as numerous charitable and social service
agencies, handle large caseloads of asylum applications from Chinese
immigrants and others.
Some said illegal immigrants were often prepared by the smugglers - even
before they see a lawyer - to offer a false or too-pat story of
persecution, and do not know their rights.
That makes them doubly vulnerable, said Jacqueline Baronian, chairwoman of
the New York chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, who
added that she did not know Porges or the details of the charges against
him.
"One of the biggest problems with these people who abuse immigrants and
take advantage," she said, "is that unfortunately, there are times when
some of these aliens have very, very valid asylum claims. They are
frightened, they don't know what to say."
The New York Times Company.
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