Avoiding Immigration Fraud
Guide To Avoiding Fraudulent Immigration Practitioners
BEFORE YOU BEGIN ANYTHING AS IMPORTANT AND FINAL AS AN IMMIGRATION APPLICATION, WHETHER IT BE FOR CITIZENSHIP, ADJUSTMENT OF STATUS, EXTENSION OF STATUS OR EVEN A DEPORTATION/CANCELLATION HEARING:
Always get a second or even a third opinion before you file or appear.
Find out what the qualifications of the agency and/or representatives are. Try to stay away from agencies that focus on other fields and just do immigration work intermittently or as a sideline. This is much too complex and important a field to trust anyone who doesn’t do this type of work on a daily basis.
Don’t leave any important or one-of-a-kind documents with the agency or practitioner. The USCIS has not needed originals with filings for many years now; you may and should always bring the original documents, and a copy of same, with you to the USCIS interview.
Make sure of what you are signing; try not to sign blank forms unless you check the title and number of each form signed. (These form numbers can be found on the bottom left hand corner of every CIS form, they usually begin with an I, N or G followed by three numbers.) Department of State forms begin with DS or OF.
ALWAYS make copies of what you give the agency and get copies of what is filed on your behalf. Be certain mailed filings are done by certified mail/return receipt.
You should try to pay with a personal check or a bank teller’s check. If you don’t have an account you may use a family member’s or trusted friend’s. As a last choice you can use a money order but they are usually more difficult, time consuming and costlier to trace.
Whether you pay with cash or check, always obtain a receipt with: your name, the agency name and address, the amount paid, any balance left to pay, the type of case being done, (Ex. I-485) and the printed name and signature of the individual in the agency helping you or receiving your money.
Besides a receipt, you should always insist on a written contract/retainer with the agency that clearly spells out what is being done for you and what it costs. If possible, it should also list what extra follow-up work may be involved and its cost.
If someone promises to “speed up,” “fix,” “guarantee,” or otherwise influence your case before the USCIS -usually for a sizable upfront fee- it’s a very good indication that they are fraudulent practitioners. No one can guarantee any results except the USCIS itself.
Use your common sense. If someone tells you that they alone can do something when all the other agencies have told you they cannot- it’s most probably fraudulent advice. Although it may be what you want to hear, remember that fraudulent practitioners are extremely skilled at baiting the hook and that you are the fish. They rely on your wanting a result so badly that you’ll overlook glaring problems with what they’ve told you.
We may be able to file a bonafide case, help you file a criminal complaint with the proper law enforcement agency such as the NYS Attorney General or your county D.A. and work with NYC Consumer Affairs to get some or all of your money back.
What should I watch out for when I’m filing my case?
Questions that relate to good moral character, fraud, affidavits of support and public charge issues, lack of proper documents, and omission of material facts are all things to watch out for. Many clients come to us and say “I’m really married, why should I worry?” The answer is that you must not only be in a legitimate marriage but also able to prove it on paper. The DAO (District Adjudication Officer), or IO’s (Information Officers) nowadays, does not know you and your spouse personally, therefore you must be able to offer proof that you have a bona fide case to the satisfaction of the USCIS. The Adjustment appointment letter has a comprehensive list of the necessary documents, so follow that list closely. If you do not have all pertinent documentation or a valid reason for not having it, you can and will be denied. The local District Office often decides that, as an applicant, you have been given sufficient time and notice to provide these documents or information by the time of the interview and failure to do so can be grounds for denial. “I’m too busy” is not a valid reason. In the USCIS New York District, in particular, they adjudicate cases relatively quickly but they also take a harder line in these matters.
Do not listen to your friends, unless they are referring you to a legitimate agency which has recently helped them obtain a final positive result in their own case. It is not wise to assume that just because your friends went through the “same” process recently that they are now experts in the field. First of all, no two cases are ever completely alike. Second, USCIS makes substantive changes in laws and procedures all the time and you cannot realistically rely on your friends to be aware of something that only recently passed. Third, hearsay is notoriously unreliable and dangerous to follow in a potentially complex case involving immigration and the future of your residency.
When I get on the Web and search “Immigration Services” a confusing thing happens – there are a ton of sites that come up and so many of them look like government sites. Only after submitting my information do I notice that they might not be the real deal. What should I do and what advice can you give me?
First off, it isn’t your imagination. When you put in those two keywords, literally millions of sites come up and the majority of them are not ‘the real deal,’ meaning that many of them imitate the government site and make you believe that you have filed electronically with USCIS when, in fact, all you have done is pay for the privilege of filling out your own forms. We always advise people filing any immigration form that a free, walk-in consultation with one of our staff members is the way to go. Always get an expert opinion BEFORE FILING. Second, recognize the tricks above and avoid troublesome websites. The fraudulent sites usually are looking for identity theft opportunities, are touting some non-existent program such as “Amnesty,” or are mimicking a free legitimate program like the Diversity Visa lottery, all to make you believe that you have won and now must pay to advance your application. Others imitate the USCIS government site with common logos and descriptions to make you believe that you are at the real site. If the web address does not end in “.GOV”, then it is NOT a government site. Anything that ends in “.net,” “.com,” or “.(anything else)” are not government websites. Lately, these fraudsters have gotten smarter and include “gov” somewhere in the web address, but not at the end, to further confuse you. The most common and easily mistakable are the sites that allow you to download forms and then charge you for the “privilege” of filing and filling them out online when, in fact, there is no such service. U.S. Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS) only offers e-filing for the I-90 or “Green Card” replacement form online. All the other forms, such as Adjustment, Alien Relative petitions, Naturalization, Extensions, etc. are all done via regular mail. If you pay for any form online, excluding the USCIS application fee, you are actually paying a PRIVATE agency just to fill in and download your own forms. Most importantly, these forms are not going to the government and therefore will not give you the result you are seeking. See the sites for what they are, they are not the government and they are not signing a G28 as your legal representative so they do not represent you with the USCIS.
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
**ANYONE WHO FEELS THAT THEY MAY HAVE BEEN A VICTIM OF FRAUD
CAN CONTACT OUR OFFICE TO GET HELP.**
This list, though not exhaustive, is a good example of the variety and levels of Immigration Fraud that unwitting victims, both US Citizens and immigrants alike, are subject to. Many great Immigration aid, government and service organizations have contributed as sources to this list. Among them are the; Immigrant Defense Project, Urban Justice Center, the New York Immigration Coalition, New York Immigration Coalition, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, American Immigration Lawyers Association, the USCIS / Homeland Security, various State Attorney Generals and NYC Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, NYC Immigration Hotline. As always, there are myriad agencies that you can visit to get a second opinion before filing an Immigration case. Please do so, as Immigration fraud can be a lifetime bar.
This list is intended as a guide and not legal advice for your specific case.
In certain Latino communities, fraud occurs because of a misunderstanding regarding the authority of a “notary public”, which translates to “notario” or “notario publico” in Spanish. In many Latin American countries a “notario” refers to someone who has the authority to render legal services. Unscrupulous “notarios” who are not attorneys often rely on this misunderstanding to exploit immigrants. Furthermore, they charge immigrants excessive application fees without ever submitting applications to the immigration authorities or may induce deportation by submitting applications for relief for which the immigrant is not eligible for or did not request
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.
FAILURE TO EXPLAIN PROCESS OR EXPLAIN RISKS TO CLIENT
Fraudulent attorneys (and in some instances non-authorized practitioners) will give assurances that someone qualifies for a benefit without noting the difficulties in the process or explaining the risk so as to give the client the impression they are guaranteed a green card or other desirable result. Remember, NO ONE can guarantee a result except the USCIS itself or the Department of State.
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.
MISREPRESENTING LEGAL CREDENTIALS:
This involves individuals who falsely claim to be attorneys, or wrongly suggest that they are able to appear before the immigration agencies or court. They take advantage of immigrants who will unknowingly pay exorbitant fees for their services. Their lack of real qualifications and skills may cause them to miss deadlines or file incorrect and incomplete forms, as well as false claims with the government. Simply stated, by misrepresenting their qualifications, these individuals can have a detrimental impact on the immigrants with whom they work. For example, immigrants who take advice from and work with these individuals may waive their right to obtain legal residency, be unnecessarily deported, or become subject to civil and/or criminal liability for the filing of false claims.
IMMIGRATION AFFINITY FRAUD
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.
CHARGING FEES FOR SERVICES THAT ARE NEVER PROVIDED
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.
FRAUDULENT PROMISES TO EXPEDITE PROCESS:
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.
FALSE PROMISES OF PERMANENT RESIDENCY AND CITIZENSHIP:
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.
PREPARATION OF APPLICATIONS FOR INELIGIBLE PERSONS OR UPIL:
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.
SALE OF IMMIGRATION FORMS THAT ARE AVAILABLE FOR FREE:
Some websites claim to be affiliated with the United States government. These websites charge immigrants for forms that are available free of charge through official government websites. All official websites end in “.gov” and have free, downloadable forms. Also, even more pervasive is the proliferation of ‘legitimate’ sites that charge you for the privilege of filling out your own forms that you can then download and send to Immigration. Save your money, skip them completely and either go to USCIS.GOV or visit us for a Free Consultation
FALSE IMPERSONATION OF IMMIGRATION OFFICIALS:
Scammers contact immigrants by phone, mail, and/or e-mail claiming to be immigration officials. They claim the immigrants’ legal status is at risk and request personal information, such as social security numbers, passports, credit cards, and bank information. This information is then used to steal immigrants’ identities, establish new credit cards, and access the victims’ bank accounts. In other instances, the scammers claim to be able to expedite someone’s application or extract special favors from immigration authorities.
UNAUTHORIZED PRACTICE OF LAW:
This concerns individuals who are not licensed to practice law but present themselves as attorneys or immigration law experts capable of providing legal advice and services
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.
UNWARRANTED THREATS OF DEPORTATION
For a variety of reasons, individuals may threaten to report an immigrant, undocumented or not, to authorities unless they pay a bribe or otherwise perform some service they would otherwise not do willingly.
Scammers promise that for a fee they will sponsor immigrants for employment-based green cards and/or provide them with job training to allow them to work in the United States.
EMPLOYMENT AGENCY SCAMS
Employment agency scams involve companies that charge a fee to secure individuals employment, and often promise them green cards or other immigration sponsorships as well. Immigrants will pay the fee but get nothing in return.
Since 2012, President Barack Obama has made several administrative fixes to the immigration system in order to relieve some of the burden placed on immigrant communities until immigration reform occurs. Such announcements included the creation of a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program, and, subsequently, expanding DACA and creating a similar program called Deferred Action for Parents (DAPA). As of the publishing of this report, expanded DACA and DAPA are subject to a temporary injunction and on hold pending litigation in federal courts. Unscrupulous providers, however, continue to exploit the confusion caused by the announcements by taking money as advance payments for the applications, or assuring that the programs are in effect – going so far as to promise that a “new law” now permits victims to apply for immigration status that did not previously exist.
“HARDSHIP” CASES OR “10-YEAR” CASES
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.
ORIGINAL DOCUMENT SCAM
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.
OTHER SCAMS TARGETING IMMIGRANTS
- Construction companies or other employers hiring immigrants and refusing to pay them, or paying them far below the minimum wage.
- Housing scams where the same apartment is rented to numerous individuals.
- Sale of falsely-produced identity documents such as green cards, driver’s licenses, state IDs and social security numbers.
- Financial and investment scams such as pyramid schemes, fake investment opportunities, or fake bank services.
- Health care enrollment services by non-authorized individuals.