SAN FRANCISCO – Frauds based on immigration will spike as these issues hug the news headlines this year, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
FTC Acting Associate Director of FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection Monica Vaca said this assumption is based on the tendency of frauds to follow the news as President Donald Trump takes a hard stance on undocumented immigrants.
Immigration advocates including Filipino American lawyers such as Asian Law Alliance Staff Attorney Beatrice Ann M. Pangilinan believe that greater focus should be given to prosecuting immigration scams because they are rampant and are more aggressive during times of uncertainty.
“A lot of people want to take advantage of undocumented people’s hope of finding a way to gain a path to citizenship, keep this country as their home, and keep their families united. Unfortunately, a lot of these unscrupulous practitioners are not prosecuted,” lamented Pangilinan.
“Not only are people being cheated of their hard-earned money, they also subject themselves to the likelihood of deportation when they file applications that they are not eligible for.”
Some of the forms of immigration scams that were brought to Pangilinan’s Asian Law Alliance are impostor scams where people pass themselves off as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. They call victims, asking them to deposit money in order to not be deported. There are also fake immigration consultants filing applications – asylum, green card, deferred action for childhood arrivals for adults — with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that people are not eligible for.
“To avoid all these, they should check the person’s law license or as a Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) consultant. They should speak to family members or friends about people that they have worked with before and can trust,” Pangilinan advised.
“It is important to arm themselves with information and get the proper screening to find out if they have any legal remedies and what those are. Moreover, they should get their information and advice from the right sources.”
Atty. Johnson Lazaro concurs that immigration scams have been around for a very long time and seem to rise especially among those in the Chinese and Latino communities every time there is an amnesty or a new immigration rule in effect.
Lazaro also had encounters with impostors pretending to be lawyers or immigration experts or even USCIS personnel who approach unknowing victims, promising them a green card in exchange for thousands of dollars in “filing fees.”
“In the Filipino community we had someone who pretended to be in close contact with attorneys and milked hundreds of Filipinos for millions of dollars. (The good thing was that) she was prosecuted,” Lazaro divulged.
“These scams will effectively burn the trust of undocumented immigrants when it’s time for them to come out and apply for some sort of future amnesty. There would be fewer people going to legitimate attorney offices to get the right information because of these bad experiences.”
Lazaro advises potential victims to check if the person is truly a licensed attorney by calling the State Bar or visiting the State Bar website to confirm if they are dealing with a legitimate lawyer.
“The most important things that undocumented immigrants need to remember is that if something looks good, smells good and appears good, get a second and third opinion before parting with your hard earned dollars,” Lazaro reminded.
Lawyer Robert Uy says, “In undocumented communities, promises such as a “ten-year benefit” can lead to people filing fraudulent asylum claims which scammers will eventually withdraw. This will then later place the persons in removal proceedings.”
People should contact attorneys immediately before acting or paying anyone claiming to be ICE, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), or USCIS personnel, warns Uy.
Uy also advises that immigrants always have a copy of proof of status with them at all times. “They should always remember that they have the right to be silent when approached by officers, and ask to see a judicial warrant before they allow officers to enter their homes.”
Hayward City-based immigration counsel Crispin Lozano said that scams are expected to proliferate the more President Trump tightens immigration regulations.
“Some of the scams that we deal with are victims getting a fake green card or work permit or fake social security number, unauthorized practice of law by notarios publico and consultants, presence of websites posing as government agencies and collecting filing fees, or offers of employment for a fee with the employer turning out to be fictitious,” Lozano enumerated.
“Undocumented immigrants need to remember that they have a constitutional right to defend themselves in all aspects of their immigration case no matter what their situations are right now,” Lozano maintained.