You’re an immigrant. You want to get help in gaining legal status in the US so you go to someone claiming to be a reputable immigration attorney who claims to be able to help you get your green card. You pay thousands of dollars in fees and after a long, drawn-out process, all that you have to show for your trust in this person it is a spot in a deportation center. And it turns out that the person who was helping you wasn’t even qualified or licensed all along. This scenario is what thousands of immigrants have found themselves in after they were targeted by people posing illegally as immigration attorneys.
The Obama administration is taking a major step in combating immigration services scams. These scams are perpetuated by individuals and groups that are not accredited representatives or lawyers, providing fraudulent services or fake representation to immigrants.
A major problem at the heart of these scams is the widespread activity of “notarios”, who often exploit Spanish-speaking immigrants and are not authorized to practice law in the United States. Immigrants who seek to gain legal status by going through the court system are exploited by the perpetrators of these scams, and often find themselves facing deportation as a result of improper representation. One particularly striking incident in New York involved a man pretending to be an immigration lawyer with over twenty years of experience, who took $75,000 each from 14 Guyanese immigrants before he was caught.
USCIS has produced new materials for distribution including fliers and posters, in addition to a public service announcement, billboard and transit advertisements, and an online resource center. Additionally, the DOJ and FTC will distribute materials targeted at specific populations affected by immigration service scams. The FTC has also created a new immigration code in its online consumer complaint database, Consumer Sentinel Network, where consumers can alert authorities directly about immigration services scams.
In order to enforce this initiative, Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will continue to work with the DOJ, FBI, and USCIS, to obtain convictions of those involved in these scams. Sentences can be up to eight years in prison in addition to forfeiture and restitutions. While the issue of illegal immigration remains a hot topic on the national scene with upcoming Presidential elections next year, the problem of how the rights of immigrants seeking to obtain legal status are being violated remains underreported and is often overlooked.
How can you avoid getting trapped in a scam?
- Always ask if your attorney has a license. You can look up a person’s Attorney License status in New York State by going to : https://iapps.courts.state.ny.us/attorney/AttorneySearch. And remember, the best way to secure an authorized attorney is to contact your local bar association.
- Keep copies of all documents, and create a paper trail.
- If you feel you have been victimized, or if you know perpetrators of a scam, don’t be afraid to report the crime. Remember to remain vigilant and proactive whenever you’re obtaining legal advice from anyone!
You can view the video of the PSA from USCIS here: