President Barack Obama's announced immigration policy changes have provided a way for millions of immigrants in the country to be afforded some relief from deportation. The expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) will defer deportation and provide employment authorization. However, some people are taking this opportunity to take advantage of immigrants, and scam them out of money while providing useless or even harmful services.
As with any new program, some questions remain to be answered or clarified, with confusion over how the policy will work, and speculative information on how to go about getting approved. This has created an opening for scam artists who prey on vulnerable immigrants. The government, immigrant advocacy groups, and lawyers and local bar associations are warning consumers that they should only consult licensed attorneys to provide advice on immigration laws.
The government has not yet even release the details of the application process, so people should “beware of anyone who offers to help you submit an application,” according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). USCIS has also provided a list of common immigration scams, including websites requiring payment for forms, fake visa lottery emails, “guaranteed” benefits, notarios publico, and telephone scams asking for payment or identifying information.
Immigrants seeking lawful status may be overly trusting of people in their local community who claim they can guarantee success for a price. Laura Vasquez, an immigration legislative analyst with National Council of La Raza has warned that “anything related to immigration tends to have this activity associated with it. There are people who really want to get right with the law and seek any opportunity to adjust their status. They'll sometimes believe things that aren't true.”
According to the Department of Consumer Affairs in Los Angeles, there may be as many as 2,500 people unlawfully filing immigration papers or providing unlawful immigration advice in California alone. Scammers can get tens of thousands of dollars out of their victims, without having any authority to file paperwork, or represent their clients in court. The problem with using these unlawful services, or notario fraud, is not the just a risk of not getting what you pay for, it could also result in eventual deportation.
Many people take advantage of the confusion over the term notary or “notario.” In some Latin American countries, a notario can perform many of the same services as a lawyer. However, in the U.S., a notary cannot provide legal services or offer legal advice. Only a licensed attorney and others authorized to offer legal services can provide legal immigration matters. They can answer questions about eligibility, and the process, and can even begin by helping gather required documents and paperwork, though the application may not be available until May.
Fraud and abuse for immigration services is underreported because many of the consumers who use these services are unlawfully in the U.S., and are afraid to come forward for fear of being discovered and put into removal proceedings. The State Bar of Arizona has provided information in Spanish to clarify the differences between a notary and lawyer, and provides advice on what to do if you have been a victim of notary fraud. To protect yourself, always work with a licensed attorney or BIA-accredited representative.