Initiative to Combat Immigration Services Scams

June 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

The US government started a multi-agency, nationwide initiative to combat immigration services scams. The Departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) are in the forefront in this initiative. This initiative aims at immigration scams involving the unauthorized practice of immigration law (UPIL), which happens when legal advice and/or representation regarding US immigration matters is given by an individual who is not an attorney or accredited representative.

This initiative is based on three pillars—enforcement, education and continued collaboration—formed to prevent UPIL scams and prosecute those who are responsible and also to educate immigrants about these scams and how to avoid them; and inform immigrants about the legal immigration process and where to find legitimate legal advice. The Department of Justice is investigating and prosecuting many cases against so-called “notarios.” Last year, DOJ has worked with investigators at the FBI, ICE, and USCIS, and with state and local partners, to secure convictions—with sentences up to eight years in prison and forfeiture and restitution of over $1.8 million. This is apart from the many actions at the state and local levels that have been filed against individuals and businesses engaged in immigration services scams.

In a recent case in West Palm Beach, Fla., ICE Homeland Security Investigations agents arrested an individual on May 26 who had posed as an attorney and processed more than 3,000 fraudulent immigration applications.

Meanwhile, FTC has created a new Immigration Services code in the Consumer Sentinel Network, its online consumer complaint database, thus making it easier for consumers to alert law enforcement about these scams. Sentinel is a secure online database that has more than 6 million consumer fraud complaints. Sentinel will act as an investigative tool for USCIS Fraud Detection and National Security officers, and will support communication between organizations on immigration services scam-related cases.

USCIS’s efforts will be primarily aimed at providing immigrants with the information they need to make informed choices when seeking legal advice and representation on immigration matters. USCIS has also unveiled a new brochure, a poster, public service announcements for use on radio and in print publications, billboard and transit ads, and a new Web resource center that includes a video.

To bolster this effort, DOJ’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) and FTC will produce and distribute educational materials for different populations that may be affected by immigration services scams. Driven by a continuing dialogue with DOJ, the City Bar of New York, the New York State Bar Association, the New York Office of the Attorney General, the Katzmann Study Group, and nongovernmental organizations, a legal training program will be launched this summer in New York City to expand the pool of lawyers who can assist in immigration matters.

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