Cuban and Venezuelan citizens are reportedly losing their life savings to fraudulent asylum-travel companies as they try to gain access to the United States, a recent NBC News report has found.
The asylum travel industry has reportedly become rife with fraud since President Joe Biden initiated a parole program that accepts a capped number of migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. The program allows the admission of a maximum of 30,000 individuals from each of the designated countries each year, granting them the right to work in the country for a period of two years.
However, fake companies are capitalizing on the legal requirement for asylum seekers to have a U.S.-based sponsor and are stealing thousands of dollars from vulnerable individuals by offering fake travel packages online.
One victim, a young Cuban doctor, was offered a package on Facebook and hoped to find a legitimate American sponsor for her asylum journey. Instead, she lost thousands of dollars after transferring $1,800 to the sponsor, who disappeared after the transfer.
"Many people I've contacted since then ask for money in advance. When I tell them I won't pay ahead of time, they immediately block me," the young doctor told NBC News, adding that others received fake travel documents after paying for the service. “Most of them say they have relatives in Cuba that will refund the money if anything goes wrong, but they're all lies."
The companies are offering packages with maps, mobilization plans, and purported sponsors for a hefty fee. Many of these packages are even advertised on international websites and social media platforms. "They’re preying on people who are desperate and vulnerable that are trying to get to the United States," said Miami immigration attorney John de la Vega. “I’ve heard of people who paid others for this type of service and they just disappear."
U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services claims it is working to alert prospective asylum seekers from overseas about online fraudsters seeking money. Unfortunately, many migrants seeking assistance are not familiar with the U.S. government's websites and resources and fall prey to being contacted by scams directly.
The agency told NBC: “The agency carefully vets every prospective supporter through a series of fraud- and security-based screening measures before confirming a properly submitted I-134A, Online Request to be a Supporter and Declaration of Financial Support. USCIS thoroughly reviews each reported case of fraud or misconduct, and may refer those cases to federal law enforcement for additional investigation.”