Bloomberg Línea — Since US President Joe Biden announced that 30,000 immigrants would be allowed to enter the country per month from Venezuela, Nicaragua, Haiti and Cuba, US citizens and legal residents have begun offering themselves as financial sponsors through social networks at a cost of up to $10,000.
The US government’s humanitarian parole program requires applicants to have someone in the US who is committed to providing financial support for at least two years, and many immigrants lack such contacts, the Associated Press reported.
It is unclear how many people in the US may have charged immigrants to sponsor them, but Facebook groups with names like “US Sponsors” have hundreds of posts offering and seeking financial sponsors.
A recent post on Facebook advertised the services of “two sponsors” at a cost of $8,000 each, to be paid in cash.
Immigration lawyers consulted by AP said they could find no specific law prohibiting people from charging money from immigrants seeking sponsors.
“As long as everything is correct on the form and there are no fraudulent statements, it can be legal,” attorney Taylor Levy, who worked for a long time on the border around El Paso, Texas, told the media outlet.
“But what concerns me are the risks in terms of being trafficked and exploited. If it’s a lie, it could be fraud,” he said, adding that “it seems counterintuitive” to pay someone to promise to provide financial support.
However, the International Rescue Committee, which is in charge of locating and assisting new arrivals in the United States, points out that this kind of thing happens with every new US program that benefits immigrants, and therefore there is the risk of scams.
There is no fee to file Form I-134A, which is required for humanitarian migrants, and the US Citizenship and Immigration Services states that sponsors cannot request a fee for their sponsorship.
A similar US program for Ukrainians prompted the government to publish an online guide on how to detect and protect against human trafficking schemes, and which lists certain issues to look out for, and which Latin American immigrants should also be aware of.
Those guidelines include a reminder that, while many people offering help have good intentions, some want to take advantage of others during a crisis, and if someone offers support, it is a good idea to ask about what they will provide and if they expect anything in return.
The guidelines also warn against being offered work in exchange for help filling out immigration forms, and being provided with vague or inconsistent information about where the immigrant will live or what resources will be provided.
Being offered money or a job with a well-paying salary that seems too good to be true is another warning sign, as is being told to lie about the terms of the agreement or the job you are/will be doing, or if the immigrant is asked to hand over their passport, ID documents or cell phone, or if they try to separate an immigrant from their friends or family.
The government has also launched an initiative called Welcome.US that aims to unite US citizens as potential sponsors with immigrants.
Sarah Ivory, executive director of nonprofit USAHello that provides online information in multiple languages, said the proliferation of paid sponsorship offers is “deeply troubling and frustrating and predictable,” and said the nonprofit has received hundreds of inquiries to tat end.
The US Department of Homeland Security says 1,700 humanitarian parole applications were accepted through Jan. 25 from Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans, plus an undisclosed number of Venezuelans.