Thursday, September 19, 2013

Dominance of Rumor-based Facts in Immigrant Communites



A year ago, moving to New York City was a choice inspired by my study and research on adult Tibetan immigrant population, and the determination to carefully connect and observe immigrant communities (particularly Tibetan and Himalayan). This determination was justly complemented when I succeed in securing a job that allows me to work closely and directly with refugee and asylee population on a federal grant. Nevertheless, it may be too early to draw a conclusion but I see the need to share what I have experienced so far. Please bear in mind that my personal experience may not correspond with or reflect the general feelings of the larger immigrant community I observed.

For the interest of time and space, this article is categorized into four major headings related to immigration.

Applying for Asylum

Many Tibetan and Himalayan individuals enter the United States on a non-immigrant visa. Once they reach the United States, most succeed in seeking asylum from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) - some devote around 8 to 10 years in the US Immigration Court to gain the final asylum approval.

Applying for asylum has been viewed as a very complicated process. This view seems to have initially started as a rumor but it spread so far and wide within the Tibetan and Himalayan community that it is now the fact. This rumor-generated fact continues to be the best marketing tool for brokers (individuals charging a huge sum of money as fees to help process asylum application request) to prey upon political asylum seekers. These fees could range from hundreds to ten thousands of dollars depending on how long the asylum process takes. Most surprisingly, many college educated people also believe in this rumor and seek support from these brokers.

One of the most troubling common beliefs is the notion of higher chances of approval from the USCIS if your asylum request story is built upon your life (could be imaginary) in Tibet - some with different names and date of birth. The problems with this imaginary (or fake) story are many: loss of college degree earned in India or other country; paying a huge sum of additional money to buy/create new identification and supporting documents; lack of confidence during the USCIS interview; chances of deportation if proved fake; and most importantly, its a fake identity that you have to live with until your last breath.

To understand who is eligible for asylum request, let’s take a look at how the US Department of Homeland Security define a refugee or asylee, “To be eligible for refugee or asylum status, an applicant must meet the definition of a refugee set forth in 101(a)(42) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA): a person who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her country of nationality because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. An applicant for refugee status is outside the United States, while an applicant seeking asylum status is in the United States or at a U.S. port of entry.” (Source: http://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/ois_rfa_fr_2012.pdf)

If you reside in New York City, there are many non-profit organizations providing free legal services to individuals intended on seeking political asylum in the United States. Some organizations have more wait time while others little less. It’s your responsibility to shop around these organizations to get the best help you need.

Immigration Fraud

When people lack knowledge and education, they become a victim. When people believe in rumor, they also become a victim. You may think that immigration fraud do not exist in this truth loving and compassionate group of Tibetan and Himalayan people. The fact is that the fraud exist on a very disturbing scale but it seems to be non-existent - thanks to the culture of not sharing failures and embarrassments. These frauds are not committed by others but by their own people. I am inclined to share one such hideous fraud but I am obligated to respect the privacy and confidentiality of the victim’s identity.

Many victims do not share or report their cases to the US government or law enforcing official on the fear of deportation. The immigration frauds are committed on the strength of these existing fears in Tibetan and Himalayan community. Though you may have a fake asylum story, you still have the rights and privilege to report immigration fraud in-person or anonymously. In other words, you can report without identifying yourself. If you are a victim of immigration fraud, the biggest mistake you are committing is to live with the burden of humiliation and letting these brokers continue to prey upon someone like you.

To report immigration fraud, there are number of avenues to contact. Some of these are:

  1. Call USCIS at 1-800-375-5283 or find legal help at www.uscis.gov/avoidscams
  2. To get a referral for legal and social service providers, call NY Immigration Hotline 1-800-566-7636 or email: bria.contact@otda.state.ny.us
  3. Notify Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at www.ftc.org/complaint or 1-877-382-4357
  4. Call NY Attorney General’s Immigration Fraud Hotline at 1-866-390-2992 or visit www.ag.ny.gov 
  5. For a list of free legal services, visit U.S. Department of Justice at http://www.usdoj.gov/eoir/probono/states/htm
  6. Report to Internal Revenue Service (IRS) - Be a whistleblower and you could receive up to 30% of the amount that has been underpaid (for more, visit http://www.irs.gov/uac/Whistleblower-Informant-Award

USCIS Applications and Fee Waivers

If someone is selling the USCIS application forms (for asylum, green card, travel document, or citizenship), don’t buy it. They are scammers. All USCIS forms are free and downloadable at no cost from its Website (click here). There are individuals who help file these forms at $100 to $200 fees with an assurance that your application fees will be waived. Please remember that these individuals neither work for the US government nor possess an authority to waive your application fees. The fees are waived by the US government based on its eligibility requirements. For instance, if you are currently a recipient of Food Stamps (SNAP benefits) and/or Medicaid, your fees will be waived cent per cent. If your income is low but not a recipient of Food stamps (SNAP benefits) and/or Medicaid, your fees could be partially waived.

Please remember that fees for Travel Document are rarely waived for the simple reason that you have earned enough money to travel.

Citizenship Eligibility

I still remember an asylee from Africa questioning me the impact of “federal grant for refugees and asylees” on her prospect for the US citizenship later on. Out of curiosity, I asked why you raised this question. Her response surprised as well as saddened me. She heard from her own community members that if someone receives a federal grant, it will impact their prospect towards naturalization (U.S. citizenship).

Her question was a surprise because I have been hearing the same in other refugee and asylee communities such as Tibetan, Nepalese, and Bhutanese. I was saddened at this question because it is just a baseless rumor that has turned into a fact. My response was simple to her - no federal program will impact other federal program.

On a similar front, many believe that receiving Food Stamp, Medicaid, and Cash benefits will impact their prospect towards naturalization which is another baseless rumor. However, things that will really impact the request for naturalization are never discussed or understood by many refugee/asylee communities.

For instance, not-filing income tax returns, defrauding IRS, domestic violence, aggravated felony, drunk driving, reckless driving, not-paying child support, travelling back to your prosecuted country, and child abuse could lead to the denial of your request for naturalization. 

Recommendation and Conclusion

So far, this article discussed the existence of rumor-based facts in the realm of immigration. However, these rumor-based facts are widespread in all walks of immigrant life such as social, welfare, economics, and not to miss the politics.

Rumors spread like wildfire in many communities. Sadly, many individuals believe in these rumors as true. These rumors are like parasites in the community that holds back the growth and development of its community members. It’s important that each and every community members identify and understand these rumors and work together to undermine them.


Education is the best tool to empower community members. When you hear something, don’t buy it. Don’t share with others until you do your own research on what you heard. Hearing and believing are two different functions of the body. You hear from ear but you should believe from head. So, to believe, do your research thoroughly and then, share the findings with your friends and community members. Together, we can make the community stronger.


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