Inside fake German heiress Anna Sorokin’s immigration battle
While fake German heiress Anna Sorokin may be a household name, that isn’t getting her any special treatment in the American immigration system.
The Russian-born scam artist, the inspiration behind the hit Netflix series “Inventing Anna” from megaproducer Shonda Rhimes, served about three years in prison for swindling more than $270,000 from banks, hotels and wealthy New Yorkers to help her live the lifestyle of the rich and famous.
Sorokin, who acknowledges that she made “so many bad choices,” has now become one of the most high-profile immigration detainees in recent memory, a famous name in a sea of anonymous petitioners.
Authorities say Sorokin, who went by the name Anna Delvey for years, overstayed her U.S. visa and must return to Germany.
She is fighting that move, arguing that while she may have been able to appeal her case from Germany, “it’s not the same” as doing so from inside the U.S. She was released from prison in October.
The process, she told the Hill in a recent phone interview, has been uncertain and frustrating.
“They don’t have rules for the judges or for the BIA, which is the Board of Immigration Appeals, to make a decision. If you file something, they can take a year or two or three — or like one week — to give you a response. And there are no guidelines. You know, so that’s pretty frustrating, especially when you’re in jail,” Sorokin said.
“There’s no guarantee that you will ever get a response,” she added.
Anna Sorokin sits at the defense table during jury deliberations in her trial at New York State Supreme Court, April 25, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
Sorokin’s case, experts say, starkly highlights the issues facing an overburdened immigration system, which last year had 1.3 million cases on the docket, including many, like Sorokin, facing deportation.
Immigration attorney Eileen P. Blessinger, who is not involved in Sorokin’s case, said that while the situation is more high-profile than most, it is far from uncommon.
“There’s really no timeframe on how long or how short it may take,” Blessinger said. “There’s nothing in the regulation saying that they have to rule on something by a certain time.”
The actual timing of a case often depends on location, Blessinger said. In Virginia, for example, capacity has increased by 750 percent over the last decade, meaning that judges have ample ability to adjudicate cases, she explained.
“But in other jurisdictions, they don’t,” she added. “So the backlog in Virginia was about a six-year backlog for people who were not detained. Now we’re getting trials moved up really quickly. It just kind of depends on where you’re located in the country.”
Sorokin said the situation presents a “great problem” for her immigration lawyer, John Sandweg, a former acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) under President Obama.
According to Sandweg, the case highlights significant issues faced by the immigration system.
“Anna was in detention for 17 months, as our case went through the system with appeals,” he said, adding that “it’s going to drag on longer still.”
“Why does it take so long?” he asked.
A spokesperson for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) told The Hill that it couldn’t comment on immigration court or BIA processes. They directed The Hill to the Executive Office for Immigration Review, an agency within the Department of Justice.
“Noncitizens placed into removal proceedings receive their legal due process from federal immigration judges in the immigration courts, which are administered by the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR),” ICE added.
In response to a request for comment, a spokesperson for EOIR said that “adjudicators decide each case in a manner that is timely, impartial, and consistent with applicable law and case precedent, and consistent with due process.”
Anna Sorokin is escorted by court officers as she arrives for the verdict, Thursday, April 25, 2019, in New York. Sorokin, who claimed to be a German heiress, was found guilty on eight charges. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Sorokin said the U.S. criminal system is “pretty straightforward” in comparison to immigration proceedings.
“It’s actually very surprising how few Americans actually know how [the] immigration system works beyond the headlines that are about the Southern border… There’s just so much more to the immigration system than just illegal immigrants at the Southern border,” she said from New York.
Sorokin said she believes, however, that all the publicity around her has had a negative impact on her case “because I’m very much on the radar.”
“I don’t think I would be on house arrest now. I don’t think they would have [banned] me on Instagram, or Twitter, or any social media. It is what it is. It all comes out of the choices I have made over the past year, so I’m not going to sit and complain,” she said.
Sorokin’s swindling of the crème de la crème of New York society was first made infamous by The Cut profile “How Anna Delvey Tricked New York’s Party People” by Jessica Pressler and subsequent book “My Friend Anna: The True Story of a Fake Heiress” by her former friend Rachel DeLoache Williams, before it became the subject of “Inventing Anna.”
“Hopefully, people understand that this is a story, a dramatized version of real events,” Sorokin said of the Netflix series. “So it’s like it’s made for entertainment. It’s not a documentary. So I hope people take it the right way.”
One month into house arrest, the 31-year-old said she has been keeping herself busy with a podcast project and writing a book, as well as contemplating a law apprenticeship.
According to Sorokin, her newfound access to media makes her time in house arrest starkly different from what she experienced in prison.
“I was about to read a lot of things. A lot of them about me. We have messaging, and people sent me articles,” she recounted. “That kind of [made me] realize how my story came across, and how it got interpreted by the general public. It just gave me context on everything that’s going on against me, because when you’re in prison, you’re very isolated.”
Sorokin in part blames her misdeeds on her “inexperience” and lack of “guidance.”
“I was just kind of by myself, and I thought ‘Oh, that would be a good idea’ at my comparatively young age at the time. I wish I could change them, but that’s just not an option,” she said.
“If I could go back and change everything, I probably would,” she added when asked if she has any regrets.
“That just doesn’t ever happen,” Sorokin said. “I will be left having to deal with the consequences of my actions for the rest of my life. Probably.”
—Updated at 12:02 p.m.