Immigration officials warn of scam artist risk

In late November, President Barack Obama announced an executive action on immigration reform that deferred the deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants. It means that some undocumented immigrants can legally work and live in the country if they pass a background check and pay taxes in addition to filling out an application and paying a fee. While the action has eased the fear of deportation for so many people, it has brought up a new potential concern: Scam artists are targeting immigrants without legal status.

According to the Los Angeles Times, immigration reform advocacy groups, government officials and bar associations among others have been warning undocumented immigrants to consult with only licensed attorneys and other authorized legal advisors about immigration status. Con artists have been preying on these individuals, offering assistance filing immigration paperwork and providing advice in exchange for payment.

However, since these scammers are not authorized, the paperwork is being filed illegally, and the advice given may not be based on expert knowledge. Since the Nov. 20 announcement by President Obama, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has updated its website to warn the public of this scam and remind applicants that applications and requests are not yet being accepted.

“Beware of anyone who offers to help you submit an application or a request for any of these actions before they are available,” the USCIS warned. “You could become a victim of an immigration scam.”

As USCIS went on to note, only a licensed attorney or an accredited representative employed by an organization recognized by the Board of Immigration Appeals can give out legal advice concerning immigration. Avoid seeking help through public advertisements and local businesses that claim to guarantee American citizenship, a green card or other such results.

“The Internet, newspapers, radio, community bulletin boards and storefronts are filled with advertisements offering immigration help,” the USCIS said. “Not all of this information is from attorneys and accredited representatives. There is a lot of information that comes from organizations and individuals who are not authorized to give you legal advice, such as ‘notarios’ and other unauthorized representatives. The wrong help can hurt.”

As the Los Angeles Times noted, notario fraud is not a new issue. When the 1986 amnesty bill was passed, millions became eligible for American citizenship. Scammers began to target those living unauthorized in the U.S., offering assistance in obtaining work permits, green cards and other relief from deportation. Victims of these con artists lost tens of thousands of dollars in some cases. To avoid such losses and legal issues, ensure anyone you consult with regarding your immigration status is a authorized by the Board of Immigration Appeals.