Ed Juarez and his bogus International Immigrants Foundation (IIF) will finally pay for the harm they have caused New York and Long Island immigrants.
The first time I met Juarez was on TV in the late 1990s. I was on a program about the conflict in Farmingville between an anti-immigrant hate group and new immigrants. Each of the other guests spoke, with varying levels of heat, about a situation that would lead to two white supremacists being sent to jail for trying to kill Mexican day labors and five teenagers indicted for burning down the home of an immigrant family. When it was time for Edward Juarez to speak on this troubling subject he used his time to tell Long Island immigrants that they should come to him to get their papers “fixed.”
I was not surprised that Juarez saw this appearance on WLIW as a chance to air a commercial for his gold mine: IIF. I had known about his deceptive moneymaking practices for years and had helped expose them. I was surprised that a PBS affiliate would give its publically supported airtime over to a crook.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has now set up a $2.2 million fund out of IIF’s remaining assets to compensate the victims of Ed Juarez.
IIF and Ed Juarez’s other “foundations” had been going full blast at defrauding immigrants for years. It was only in 2010 that then-Attorney General Andrew Cuomo effectively closed them down. At the time, Cuomo said, “These businesses make millions of dollars by exploiting the dreams of New York’s immigrant community.”
I first heard of the IIF more than two decades ago. Central American refugees, many of whom had fled death squads, were showing up at CARECEN with deportation orders after going to IIF. At first I assumed that the “foundation” was just incompetent. It was not incompetent—it was completely corrupt. The refugees were paying much more to the IIF than they ever would have paid to a private lawyer. Many non-profit immigration organizations charge fees for their services, but those fees are typically much lower than what a private lawyer would charge. IIF was charging $5,000 or more for a service that a group like Catholic Charities would have performed for a few hundred dollars. I began publically denouncing the group and warning other non-profits to have nothing to do with them.
In the mid-1990s, a paralegal I knew went to work for the IIF. When I found out that he was there, I asked him how in good conscience he could work for a man who was robbing immigrants. He told me that he had been promised that the board of directors had cleaned house and that reforms had been instituted. They had not. He quit after just a few months.
My friend came to me with stories about IIF staff lying to immigrants and telling them that they were lawyers when they had no legal training. He said that immigrants were promised low-cost legal services, but were often fooled into payment plans that required a huge portion of their weekly pay to meet. I urged him to go public with what he knew. I had seen enough damaged lives already. The word had to get out.
I helped my friend get a reporter from the Daily News to take up the story. It was the first big hit the IIF took.
They did not take it lightly.
IIF filed a $1-million lawsuit against my informant and they threatened to sue me. This got them more negative publicity when the lawyer I helped my friend find got the suit thrown out of court.
The former IIF staffer went to the authorities with what he knew, but he got the cold shoulder from them. While we had hurt their income, we had not put them out of business.
The IIF tried to rebuild an image of respectability by claiming to be somehow affiliated with the United Nations, and by presenting their deceptive messages on Spanish-language radio and television. Ed Juarez even became a regular columnist for El Diario, one of the nation’s leading Spanish-language newspapers. The organization harassed the New York Immigration Coalition to force the coalition to allow them to join, but I was successful in blocking them. If they had, they would have used that organization’s good name as a cover for their crimes.
When Andrew Cuomo finally shut them down, the New York Times wrote:
Mr. Juarez-Pagliocco used his foundations’ money to support a lavish lifestyle… He paid the rent on his Midtown apartment—he also owns a house in New Jersey—financed his luxury car, parking space, cellphone, and travel and meal expenses with the foundations’ money, the lawsuit said. Mr. Juarez-Pagliocco also used a foundation debit card to make hundreds of purchases at restaurants, bars, clubs, hotels and other places, as well as tens of thousands of dollars worth of A.T.M. withdrawals…
People who were victimized by the International Immigrants Foundation can seek restitution through the New York Legal Assistance Group (firstname.lastname@example.org or 212-514-4265). They can also register online at www.nlyag.org/IPA. It is estimated that as many as 18,000 immigrants may have been harmed.