Last year I wrote about protecting yourself from immigration fraud. That article addressed the way you, as the immigrant, can take steps to minimize your victimization by immigration consultants, notarios, and inexperienced or unscrupulous attorneys. Indeed, in my practice, I have seen a distinct pattern of abuse of a variety of nationalities by their own kind. This is not limited to the Latino community, but extends to almost every group, including British, Russian, Armenian, Asian, and others.
While last year the government publicized a “protect yourself” initiative, steering victims to local law enforcement such as the local consumer affairs or consumer protection agency, the City Attorney, Attorney General, and District Attorney, the federal government is now taking direct action against notario abusers and violators.
On June 9, 2011, Assistant Attorney General Tony West from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced during a press conference in Washington that the federal government is taking a stand against those who prey on the immigrant community by “…making promises they do not keep and charging for services they are not qualified to provide.” DOJ’s office of Consumer Protection Litigation is working with the FBI, ICE and CIS to seek convictions of fraudulent immigration practices and has already succeeded in obtaining convictions, including prison terms of 8 years.
Despite the efforts made so far, West acknowledged that one of the problems is that “…many victims of “notario” fraud are too ashamed to come forward. They suffer in silence.” For this reason, DOS is taking three steps to help with the problem:
1. Telling the community to report the matter to the State Attorney General in person or by computer online at: www.ftc.gov/complaint;
2. Training attorneys in immigration law to enable to prosecute more violators; and
3. Working with several pilot cities to help those who have been victims of notario fraud.
It is important to remember that you can be helped only if you report how you have been defrauded and how your case has been compromised. In many cases you will be given a second chance to submit a proper application. Of course, if your case was entirely fraudulent, and you knew about it, there is likely to be no remedy for you, and you can expect the law to punish you.
I have had clients who were surprised to learn about the content of their applications, particularly in asylum cases, where the facts were totally false. This is because they did not read or understand English and put all their faith in the preparer of their application. However, if they continued with the false story at the asylum interview (which is conducted with an interpreter) then they committed fraud. To undo fraud and minimize the penalty, it is always best to admit the truth when confronted with the lie, or as soon thereafter as possible.
If the victim is afraid to go forward at the interview or afraid to admit the fraud, it is best to tell the officer that he wants to see an attorney and wants to stop the interview. That will provide an opportunity to discuss the liability, if any, for the false application. Equally important is the need to discuss with the attorney whether based on the truth there is any possibility for an immigration benefit.
For more information on scams to go: http://www.uscis.gov/avoidscams.
To report immigration scams, refer to the chart of the various states: https://www.uscis.gov/
CAVEAT: The above is not a complete legal analysis, does not constitute legal advice, nor should it be construed as such. For a case specific analysis, consult an experienced immigration attorney for a private and extensive review of the facts of your case.
Aggie R. Hoffman is a Certified Specialist in Immigration and Nationality Law, licensed by the State Bar of California and certified by the Bd.. of Legal Specialization. Ms. Hoffman has over 25 years of experience in a variety aspects of immigration law, from employment based (investors and PERM) to family immigration. Her victories include cases in Immigration Court, Board of Immigration Appeals, and Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, focusing on reopening proceedings based on ineffective counsel. For more information, see www.arhlaw.biz .