Visitor visa abuse leads to federal fraud sentence

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When two Filipino women who were in the United States on visitor’s visas consulted with an immigration specialist in San Jose, Calif., they obtained work in a residential healthcare facility. Under the guidance of their consultant, the women began the filing process to become permanent residents as Evelyn Sineneng-Smith led them to believe they were allowed to do so.

In 2013, a jury found Sineneng-Smith guilty of encouraging illegal immigration, mail fraud and also of submitting false tax returns. More recently, the 68-year old Sineneng-Smith was sentenced in federal court to 18 months in prison for encouraging illegal immigration, mail fraud and also of submitting false tax returns for the purpose of her own personal financial gain. The court also imposed a $15,000 fine and also ordered Sineneng-Smith to pay $43,500 in restitution to several victims who paid fees to her.

In January, according to the San Jose Mercury News, Sineneng-Smith pleaded guilty to two additional false tax return submissions for the years 2002 and 2003.

The case is an example of immigration scammers who take advantage of immigrants who want to stay in the United States beyond their allowed visa limits. It’s this vulnerability that unscrupulous immigration service practitioners work to exploit.

As these criminal consultants search for tainted profit, immigrant clients face extreme fallout. Emphasizing that the wrong hurt can help, consequences include delay, expense and possible deportation as among the potential ramifications for filing false information.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) moves to counter immigration services scams by educating legal service providers and community-based organizations about dishonest practices. The Unauthorized Practice of Immigration Law (UPIL) initiative creates a partnership between USCIS and “several other government agencies to identify resources that can help you avoid immigration service scams,” according to a release.

Guidelines to find ethical and competent help include:

Scamming has long been an issue within the immigration services industry. While the force of the federal government came down on the San Jose immigration scammer, the state of New York took steps in February to impose more fines and steeper penalties for fraudulent service providers. State lawmakers also established the Office for New Americans as part of an effort to protect the 4.3 million foreign-born residents in New York.

In particular, the New York legislation targets unqualified legal helps marketed who market themselves as a “notario publico.” Unscrupulous practitioners rely on cultural differences between the U.S. and Latin America where a notario publico equates to a licensed attorney.

Similar to New York’s legislation, the adoption of UPIL is intended to help prevent immigrants from becoming victims, losing both money and opportunity.

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