Don’t Become a Victim! The Rise of Immigration Scams During Periods of Uncertainty in Immigration Policy
By Atty. Brittany M. Milliasseau
In this time of rapidly changing immigration directives and uncertainty regarding the immigration policies of the Trump Administration, noncitizens and their family members are desperately seeking answers and looking for solutions to their immigration issues. Unfortunately, fear and worry regarding the Trump Administration’s stance on immigration has caused individuals to look for help in all the wrong places. Many of these individuals are exploited by unqualified immigration consultants, or “notarios” who are only seeking to make money at the expense of desperate victims. Don’t become a victim! Be wary of individuals providing immigration advice and charging for legal services they are not qualified to perform. Only obtain legal advice from a competent and qualified attorney and never retain help from someone who fails to provide you with a written contract explaining the nature of the work to be performed and the fees to be charged.
It is important to keep in mind that obtaining the wrong legal advice and receiving assistance from ill-equipped sources can have dire consequences. Even seemingly minor mistakes can place one’s immigration case in serious jeopardy, ultimately causing one to be denied an immigration benefit he or she may be clearly qualified for or may even cause an individual to end up in removal proceedings or be physically removed from the country. While fraudulent immigration consultants have been around for years, it is more important than ever to be cautious of fraudulent immigration practitioners who have been taking advantage of the recent changes in immigration policy. If you have questions regarding your immigration situation, be sure to seek experienced immigration counsel who can provide sound advice and zealously represent your case.
Further, in the wake of the recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids throughout the country in February, there were reports of fake immigration officials wrongfully apprehending immigrants. Recently, a man was approached by several men dressed as ICE agents who threatened to arrest and deport him unless he provided the fake agents with money. Be sure to keep yourself informed of these incidents and remember that ICE agents should never solicit money from you. If you or a loved one is questioned or detained, quickly seek the advice of experienced immigration counsel.
Additionally, numerous officials have warned of an increase in general immigration scams in light of the changes in immigration policy. Common immigration scams include email notifications regarding selection in the Diversity Visa Lottery, suspicious job offers via email, and the creation of fraudulent government websites providing immigration “assistance.” There have also been reports of phone calls and emails from individuals pretending to be immigration agents who ask for personal information and request payment. Beware of any individuals that ask for sensitive personal information or payment. If you have questions regarding the legitimacy of a request, be sure to reach out to competent immigration counsel and allow them to respond on your behalf if necessary.
In response to these immigration scams, advocacy groups and various government agencies have made efforts aimed at preventing immigrants from falling prey to these various scams. Specifically, the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office has released several fact sheets with useful tips. A few of those tips include:
- USCIS (United States Citizenship & Immigration Services) does not charge for blank forms. They are free and can be downloaded at www.uscis.gov/forms.
- Don’t trust anyone who claims to be able to speed up the process and guarantee immigration benefits because of a special relationship with immigration officials.
- Don’t trust someone who promises immigration benefits by applying through them instead of directly with USCIS.
- USCIS will never ask for payment over the phone. They will not call and request personal information (social security number, passport number, A-number) or identify false problems with your immigration record and ask for payment to correct it.
- INS (Immigration & Naturalization Service) no longer exists. Any reference to INS is coming from a fraudulent source.
- Do not sign any forms, applications or petitions containing false or missing information.
- Always get a copy of your documents and a receipt of filing
- If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
With all the uncertainty created by the recent changes in immigration policy, save yourself some worry by making sure you have qualified and experienced immigration counsel handle your case. If you have specific questions regarding your immigration situation or current immigration scams, do not delay in contacting knowledgeable immigration counsel.