Crossroads Asia

Brooklyn Lawyers Abuse Asylum System in Advising Clients to Fraudulently Claim LGBTQ Persecution

Recent Features

Crossroads Asia | Society | Central Asia

Brooklyn Lawyers Abuse Asylum System in Advising Clients to Fraudulently Claim LGBTQ Persecution

Taking advantage of the very real persecution of the LGBTQ community in Russia and across much of the former Soviet Union, a pair of lawyers conspired to commit immigration fraud. 

Brooklyn Lawyers Abuse Asylum System in Advising Clients to Fraudulently Claim LGBTQ Persecution
Credit: Pixabay

A pair of Brighton Beach-based lawyers were sentenced on May 31 after pleading guilty in January to participating in a conspiracy to commit immigration fraud by advising clients, primarily from Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States, to “seek asylum by falsely claiming that they were members of the [LGBTQ] community who suffered persecution in their native countries.”

Across much of the former Soviet Union, with the notable exception of the Baltic States, life for those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community is difficult. 

A husband-wife immigration lawyer duo — Ilona Dzhamgarova and Arthur Arcadian — and a writer they worked with, Igor Reznik, “fully understood that these clients were not members of [the LGBTQ] community and suffered no such persecution,” when they helped prepared and submit false asylum applications and coached clients on what to say in immigration interviews, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York said in a press release. The Dzhamgarova firm reportedly employed writers like Reznik to draft affidavits and concoct “narrations of clients’ personal histories that were filled with falsehoods, including events and incidents of alleged persecution…”

U.S. District Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damian Williams said in the press release, “Out of her Brighton Beach law office, Dzhamgarova, assisted by Arcadian and others, invented offensive lies to cheat our country’s asylum process.  The asylum system is designed to help some of the world’s most vulnerable people — those who justifiably fear imprisonment, assault, torture, or death because of their religion, nationality, ethnicity, political views, gender, or sexual orientation.  When attorneys cynically exploit those fears and line their pockets by preparing and filing fraudulent documents and coaching clients to lie under oath, they abuse the trust placed in them and undermine the asylum system.”

Dzhamgarova was sentenced to two years in prison and Acadian to six months. Both were also sentenced to two years of parole each. Dzhamgarova was ordered to forfeit $540,000 and pay a $15,000 fine; Arcadian was ordered to forfeit $1,500 and to pay a $5,000 fine. Reznik’s sentence is expected on June 7.

There is high demand for immigration to the United States. One measure is applications and approvals for a diversity visa (also known as the green card lottery). In 2022, Uzbekistan came in third for the number of “winners” in the lottery, with 5,511 applicants invited for visa interviews that may have resulted in their legal immigration to the United States. Russia was not far behind with 5,505 winners. In 2021, more than 800,000 Uzbek citizens (applicants plus their “derivative” relatives) applied for the lottery. More than 530,000 Russian citizens, in total, did the same. 

Given the high demand and few avenues for legal immigration, it’s not surprising that the unscrupulous take advantage of what “loopholes” they can find. Claiming persecution and abusing the asylum process is one such avenue.

Russia’s “gay propaganda” law was first passed in 2013 and expanded last year. The law  prohibits the distribution of “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships” among minors; with the expansion extending it to all age groups. As in other areas, laws in Russia often find replication opportunities in Central Asia. 

Populist appeals to “traditional values” in Central Asia and elsewhere essentially characterize LGBTQ individuals as foreign imports of a sort. Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan still have laws that criminalize sex between men, for example, and activists working or commenting on LGBTQ issues have found themselves on the wrong side of other laws. (The Mirzaiz Bazarov case is a prime example.)

A report published last year by the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA), the Eurasian Coalition on Health, Rights, Gender and Sexual Diversity (ECOM), and the International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) called on Uzbek authorities to decriminalize consensual sexual relations between men. The report noted that the law, beyond violating international human rights standards in itself, serves as a cudgel with which Uzbek police harass and extort men in Uzbekistan, regardless of their actual sexual orientation.

Elsewhere in Central Asia the climate is “less repressive,” as Bermet Talant reported for RFE/RL last June. “Some openly speak out about their identities and rally for their rights, but social stigma, homophobia, and harassment are widespread in these conservative, predominantly Muslim societies.” 

Both Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan flirted with passing legislation similar to Russia’s 2013 bill. In 2015, Kazakhstan quietly shelved that effort. Although an analogous bill was introduced in Kyrgyzstan in 2014 and passed second readings in parliament in 2015 and 2016, it failed to pass and got lost in the 2017 change of government.

The Southern District of New York said that Dzhamgarova’s firm worked primarily with clients “from Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States — seeking visas, asylum, citizenship, and other forms of legal status in the United States” and pegged their activity to a window between November 2018 and December 2021. (Given that Dzhamgarova, Arcadian, and Reznik were arrested in February 2021 the “December 2021” end date may be a typo in the press release; arguably 2020 is what is meant).

The press release did not identify any individual clients, nor did it state if any were successful in obtaining asylum fraudulently.