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The information offered in this Website is general in nature and Q & A’s are intended as a guide and not legal advice. For specific legal advice for your particular case, take some time out of your busy life and visit us or other viable agencies/attorneys for an in- person consultation. Updated 02/2017
Language and cultural barriers make immigrants a target community for deceptive advertising. Misleading advertising makes it difficult for immigrants to access accurate, reliable information and ultimately places immigrants at risk for substantial financial loss. This is very common especially around times of the passage of new Immigration laws or when there is exceptional interest in the popular media on certain Immigration stories.
Real Life Example
Jesus, an undocumented person from Mexico with more than 20 years in the U.S., heard through the rumor mill about the “ten year visa.” Several of his friends had recently met an attorney who, eight months and several thousand dollars later, got them a work permit. It seemed miraculous: after so many attorneys said no, here was an attorney who said yes. All you need is ten years in the U.S., to pay your taxes, and to have kids who are born here, his friends told him. Jesus met with the attorney who confirmed that he offered the service for $8,000. The attorney told Jesus to bring in evidence of his ten years in the U.S., his paid taxes, his children’s birth certificates, etc. He had Jesus sign some forms in English and then told him to come back in five months. Five months later, Jesus went back in and filled out some more paperwork. In just a few more-months – voila, a work permit arrived.
What Jesus didn’t realize is that he had applied for asylum. Moreover, the fact he had a pending asylum application is the only reason that he had received the work permit. Since Jesus is not asylum eligible, when the Asylum Office refers his application to an immigration judge, he will be put into deportation proceedings. He learns that there is a defense to deportation that requires having more than ten years in the U.S., but it also has other elements such as proving “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship” to certain qualifying U.S. citizen relatives – a really high standard. His case is still pending before the Asylum Office and he’s not sure what to do.
This involves providers who target immigrants belonging to their same ethnic or racial group. Accordingly, they seek to gain advantage over other providers by claiming to identify with the ethnic, racial, national origin or community-based affiliations of the immigrant group.
This is much more prevalent than believed, especially in large cities with diverse immigrant populations; see our attached article from the New York times in 1997 wherein we fight crooked individuals who are real life examples of many of these frauds.
Even with decades of experience in the Immigration field, 3 staff Attorneys, help from local District Attorneys and the media it still took our agency 18 months and over $ 20,000 to win in State Supreme Court; something most individuals could certainly not afford.
This involves providers promising to perform services in exchange for money but never doing the work once payment has been made. This scam is all the more problematic because immigrants, particularly undocumented immigrants, often do not have access to bank accounts and pay cash without knowing to ask for a receipt.
Karina learned of a “service center” in the neighborhood that does taxes and also helped her friend obtain a work permit. A deportation order has recently been issued against her and she is desperate for help. She is also married to a US citizen. She visits the center and the notario promises to help fight the deportation ordered issued against her, file a family petition on her behalf based on her marriage, and assist her in bringing her son to the United States with a visa. Her son is in Honduras, a country ridden with violence and gang activity and she wants to bring him to live with her as soon as possible. The notario charges $10,000 for everything. Karina makes an initial deposit of $3,000 and several $300 monthly payments to the service center as a membership fee, ultimately paying a total of $4,500. She never receives correspondence from USCIS and the notario stops answering her inquiries as to the status of her case. She still has an order of deportation in her name and her son’s life is at risk in Honduras.
This type of fraud concerns individuals who contend that they know employees at immigration offices who can expedite the processing of their clients applications. Accordingly, they request high fees for this special service, but fail to provide it.
Very common in many countries and it’s not so unusual for people to be duped into believing it can happen here. Plus, because so many Immigration applications take years to come to the head of the line and then to process, this problem can be pervasive. From Immediate Relative cases that can take a year to process to Sibling cases that take 12 years to wait, just on the Visa Bulletin line, this is a scam that is not going to go away.
Organizations claim that for a set fee, they can guarantee immigrants a visa, green card, or other employment authorization document. They often have immigrants complete applications that they never actually file with the United States government. This slows down the entire process as immigrants await a decision on their applications that will never arrive.
Real life example
Franco’s employer highly values Franco and tells him that he is willing to submit a visa petition for Franco if he finds a lawyer to process the application and pays all associated fees. Franco is a dishwasher at a local restaurant. Franco hires a lawyer who was recommended by a friend. The lawyer charges a $3,500 retainer fee. A few months later, the lawyer tells Franco that the Department of Labor has approved their labor certification and charges him an additional $2,000 as a legal fee and $3,000 to cover costs incurred in obtaining the labor certification. The lawyer sends an “approval” letter from the Department of Labor but Franco never receives anything directly from that agency. The lawyer subsequently tells Franco that immigration has approved the employee petition and charges him another $5,000. Again, the lawyer sends an “approval” letter from immigration. Franco waits for months and never receives his green card. When he calls his lawyer, she tells him that he has to continue to wait for the green card. This goes on for months until the lawyer stops answering his calls and moves out of her office.
Scammers purportedly help immigrants who are clearly ineligible for naturalization or permanent residency status to complete their applications. Not only do they charge a high fee for a false promise, but by submitting these applications, they jeopardize the immigrants’ legal status.
Real life example:
Abioye, a legal permanent resident, saw a notario’s advertisement on TV and called him for advice on how to obtain a green card for his son. The notario advised him to file a 245(i) adjustment of status application so that his son could obtain his green card in the United States rather than travelling back to their country of origin to interview for the green card there. The notario knew that Abioye’s son did not meet the 245(i) requirements and thus could not change his status here. He nevertheless charged Abioye $6,500 to file a frivolous 245(i) application, which was ultimately denied.
Once a year, 50,000 diversity visas (DVs) are available via lottery from the U.S. Department of States. Visa-recipients from the lottery are chosen at random, and only those individuals meeting very specific requirements are eligible. When the lottery opens, scammers target immigrants claiming they can guarantee their selection in the lottery for a set fee. Especially for people that have been illegally in the US; you can enter and ‘win’ the Lottery but not be eligible for a Green Card or permanent residence because of that.
Having said that, the DV Lottery is (still) a very real and great way to diversify the pool of immigrants coming to our great country. It’s a shame its original purpose has been politicized and misconscrued; it’s a very significant program that allows otherwise underrepresented countries to get a small amount of visas.
An increasing common scam is to offer to help individuals apply for “the ten year case” or Cancellation of Removal, which allows undocumented immigrants to obtain a green card if they lived in the United States for a minimum of ten years before the initiation of immigration proceedings, have no criminal record, and have green card holding or US Citizen relatives who would suffer exceptional or extremely unusual hardship if the person was deported from the United States. Unfortunately, because this case can only be adjudicated through the immigration courts, which currently have years-long backlogs, it often can take 5 years or more to realize a scam took place. The most common scam is placing the immigrant in removal proceedings without explaining the risks (deportation if they lose the case), and/or initiating such a case for a person who has not been in the United States long enough, or does not have the qualifying relatives.
If explained correctly, the 10 year law’ doesn’t sound so great as an affirmative action; explained wrongly, it sounds as if almost anyone can qualify. After all, what does ‘extremely unusual or exceptional hardship’ really mean to a layperson, plus the court wait and eventual costs.
We would add: keeping or holding original ‘one of a kind’ documents “hostage” until the victim pays to get them back.
ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS HAVEN’T NEEN NEEDED FOR YEARS; yet unscrupulous practitioners request them and hold them, as insurance, even if the victim figures out the scam and demands their money back.