The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency has stepped up its efforts to fight immigration scams through the Unauthorized Practice of Immigration Law initiative.
Under this program, USCIS partnered with other federal agencies to raise public awareness regarding immigration scams. The USCIS website includes a list of common scams, including a scheme in which a local business will “guarantee” it can obtain a green card, visa or employment authorization document and charge an exorbitant fee for filing U.S. immigration forms that USCIS will process free of charge. The website also cautions immigrants to distrust businesses that reference the Immigration and Naturalization Services agency, which no longer exists, and to be skeptical about businesses or individuals advertising themselves as “notarios.”
Reporting recently on the USCIS initiative, western Massachusetts NBC affiliate WWLP spoke to Monica Vaca of the Federal Trade Commission about the issue of notarios.
“In Spanish, a notario publico is somebody who has a high degree of specialization in law,” Vaca told WWLP. “Sometimes people exploit the term notario to make people believe that they are in fact lawyers when in fact they are not lawyers at all.”
USCIS and other state and federal agencies are also encouraging immigrants who have been defrauded to report the crime. A U.S. Department of Justice spokesperson told WWLP that those who report immigration scams should not fear deportation.
The USCIS website includes a list of places in each state where victims can report scams. According to the site, many states facilitate anonymous tips.
In September, the Des Moines Register reported on a scam being perpetrated in Iowa. The scheme involved legal assistants who went door-to-door offering work permits for $500. The fraudsters obtained the permits by getting victims to file asylum claims, since asylum applicants receive work permits while they wait for rulings on their petition. However, if asylum requests are denied, the applicants face potential deportation.