Category Archives: Immigration Scams

Immigration Scammers Love the Uncertainty About Immigration Reform

man tearing up agreementFollowing up on recent stories about the lawsuit against so-called “American Legal Services” for defrauding immigrants (discussed in my previous blog, “This Is News: Actual Enforcement Against Shady Immigration Consultants!”), the East Bay Express produced an interesting story titled “The American Immigration Nightmare.”

It gave broader coverage to the problem of sham lawyers and consultants defrauding undocumented immigrants in the East Bay and beyond, with promises of remedies that either don’t exist or aren’t available to the person seeking assistance.

The most alarming aspect of the story was the following: “‘I anticipate the amount of immigration-consulting fraud will go up dramatically,’ said [Oakland City Attorney Justin] Nishioka, noting the White House’s recent renewed efforts to enact immigration reforms.”

Scammers love uncertainty. They prey on people’s fear that if they don’t act quickly, they’ll miss the boat, or at least fall to the back of the line. Given the power of the rumor mill, this blog probably won’t reach the people it needs to, but let me say right here: Immigration reform has NOT passed (and probably won’t until 2014 if at all), there is no new way to get a green card yet, and you should never give money to someone you haven’t thoroughly checked out!

California Lawmakers Take Practical Approach to Treatment of Undocumented Immigrants

sanjoseAn estimated two-million plus undocumented immigrants live, work, study, and otherwise make their home in California.

So perhaps it’s fitting that the California legislature recently passed a number of bills (subsequently signed by Governor Jerry Brown) that seem designed to make sure that, as long as they’re here, the undocumented are not treated in ways that are either grossly unfair or lead to unfortunate or dangerous unintended consequences.

Here’s a brief summary of the new laws (click the links for details):

  • AB 4, which forbids law enforcement officials from detaining noncitizens beyond their release date on the basis of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) hold, unless the person has actually been convicted of one of various crimes or meets certain specified conditions. (This seems designed to put a stop to the expense and absurdity of local law enforcement agencies serving as detention units for the federal government by holding undocumented immigrants even if the criminal charges against them were dismissed or were minor in nature.)
  • AB 35, which says that no one can charge fees for serving people applying for the immigration program known as “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” (or DACA) unless they are either immigration consultants, attorneys, notaries public, or organizations that have received accreditation from the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals (B.I.A.); and even those who have received such accreditation cannot engage in price gouging.
  • AB 60, which makes undocumented California residents eligible for a drivers’ license upon providing satisfactory proof of identity and state residency. The license will contain a notation stating that it “does not establish eligibility for employment, voter registration, or public benefits,” and will contain the initials “DP” (Drivers Privilege) instead of “DL” (Drivers’ License).
  • AB 524, which specifies that threatening to report the immigration status or suspected immigration status of an person or family may be considered an inducement of fear sufficient to constitute extortion, and thus punishable under the California Penal Code.
  • AB 1024, which allows undocumented persons to be admitted to the California State Bar Association as attorneys, and therefore to practice law in this state.
  • AB 1159, which attempts to crack down on the practice of immigration law without a license, by imposing financial penalties on people who pose as attorneys, in particular by calling themselves “notarios” or other terms which have a more elevated meaning in other countries. The law specifies that the proceeds shall be used to help people damaged by such con artists, as well as to provide free legal advice concerning federal immigration reform.
  • SB 141, which requires community colleges and universities within the California state system to charge in-state, resident tuition to U.S. citizens who live in a foreign country because their parent or guardian was deported or voluntarily departed from the U. S., so long as they will be entering in their first year as matriculated students, can demonstrate financial need, lived in California immediately before moving abroad, attended a secondary school in California for at least three years, and intend to establish residency in California.
  • SB 150, which authorizes community college districts to charge only in-state, resident tuition to certain special part-time students, namely high schoolers who would benefit from advanced scholastic or vocational work, if they are non-citizens in financial need, or students from other states who had to move due to Hurricane Katrina.
  • SB 666, which creates criminal and civil penalties for attorneys and businesses that retaliate against employees and others on the basis of citizenship and immigration status or who report or threaten to report the suspected immigration status of a witness or party to a lawsuit because the person exercises a right related to employment.

In related news, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors recently passed an ordinance prohibiting law enforcement officials from holding for deportation noncitizens who have not been convicted of felonies or deemed public safety risks. (It’s called the “Due Process Ordinance for All on Civil Immigration Detainers.”) Mayor Lee is expected to sign it.

With Immigration Reform Comatose, At Least the Visa Lottery Remains!

enter to winAll reports seem to say that Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) — which looked to be as close to becoming a reality as any similar efforts have in recent years — hit a brick wall as soon as it was passed from the Senate to the House of Representatives. (Are we surprised?) The current forecast for action on the bill is “none.” Although that will leave many people disappointed — including many with close ties to the U.S., as in already living, working, and raising families here — there’s an odd silver lining.

A random assortment of people from around the world with little or no previous connection to the U.S. will continue to receive U.S. green cards through the diversity visa lottery, which CIR had put on the chopping block! Well, perhaps not completely random. Despite the “lottery” moniker, applicants must show that they have achieved a certain level of education. And they may need the wherewithal to hire an attorney to help complete the process if they win, because the State Department always declares more “winners” than it actually has visas, and it becomes a race to finish the process before the end of the relevant fiscal year. See the articles on the “Diversity Visa Lottery Green Cards” page of Nolo’s website for details — and to help avoid the eventual scams that will pop up as they do every year.

By the way, there’s another bright spot in this year’s lottery. Same-sex spouses will now be able to accompany the winners and receive a U.S. green card, provided their marriage is legally recognized in the country or jurisdiction where it took place.

Get ready: The application period opens October 1!

Watch Out for Fake USCIS Phone Calls Asking for Your Personal Information!

phoneThe American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) has received reports of a new phone scam, in which callers pose as officers of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.  (For attorneys: This comes from AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 12071935 (posted Apr. 8, 2013).)

The callers have apparently done a bit of research beforehand, so that they know the person’s name and address, and that the person is a noncitizen of the United States. (This type of information wouldn’t be hard to find by stealing someone’s mail or Googling them, for instance.)

The caller then claims that USCIS has found discrepancies (inconsistent information) in the person’s immigration files. and asks for personal immigration data such as an I-94 number, “A” number, or visa control number. This is not data you should share with anyone, as it can be used to get more of your personal information from USCIS or potentially to create false immigration documents in your name.

But it gets worse. The caller next tells the noncitizen that USCIS charges a penalty for such discrepancies. The fake officer instructs the person to send an amount of money, via Western Union, to a certain address (not, of course, an authorized USCIS address).

If you receive any call from anyone stating that he or she is from USCIS, be wary. The agency rarely calls anyone — it tends to rely more on written communications. This is especially true if you are represented by any attorney, in which case USCIS would normally direct all such inquiries to the attorney rather than to you. Be sure to ask for the caller’s name, department, and a phone number at which you can call back. If you don’t have an attorney, call the main USCIS information line (1-800-375-5283) to check whether you were contacted by an actual USCIS officer.

If you did receive a suspicious call, talk to your attorney if you have one. Also report it to law enforcement authorities, in particular the FBI, and to the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.