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Federal Officials Launch Immigration Scam Education Campaign

435236_72050185_12182011.jpgThe Unauthorized Practice of Immigration Law Initiative, a joint project of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and five other federal agencies, aims at educating both documented and undocumented immigrants about recognizing immigration scams. USCIS formally announced the campaign at its Newark office in early December. The campaign will start in seven U.S. cities, including New York City.

More and more individuals and businesses who lack the credentials or authority to render legal assistance are targeting immigrants for what appears to be help preparing applications for immigration benefits. In reality, these scammers pocket the immigrants’ money and leave them in a worse position than before. An immigrant might miss an important filing deadline or even end up in removal proceedings if they seek help from the wrong people.

The Star-Ledger tells the story of a Honduran immigrant who fell prey to a common scam that targets Latin Americans. Sagario Mendoza, a 48 year-old mother of three had lived in Newark for five years when she sought immigration assistance from a “notario.” In many parts of Latin America a “notario publico” is a licensed legal professional, authorized to perform many of the same services as an attorney. In the United States, a “notary public” has authority from the government for a very limited set of duties, usually to administer oaths and witness signatures. People advertise their services as “notarios” to Latin American immigrants, creating the false impression that they can offer legal assistance with immigration applications. Only licensed immigration attorneys can offer legal assistance with immigration documents in New Jersey. Mendoza learned that the “notario” had taken her for $1,000 and never filed any documents on her behalf. She now faces the risk of deportation.

Another common scam is an advertised promise by a business guaranteeing benefits such as a green card or employment authorization. They often charge a high fee to fill out and file immigration applications and claim they can obtain a faster processing time. Websites that resemble official government immigration agency websites also promise fast turnarounds on applications. They may charge a fee to download official immigration forms, then charge another fee to assist in filling out the forms. This is a sure sign of a scam, as all forms are free to download from USCIS’s website.

Some scammers will target people who want to use the diversity lottery to obtain a green card. This is a program operated by the U.S. State Department that grants 50,000 visas each year to qualifying people from countries with low rates of U.S. immigration. Scammers may send e-mails to immigrants claiming that they “won” the lottery or offering services to improve their chances of selection. Any of these methods are fraudulent.

A service claiming to work with the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) is most likely a fraud. The INS ceased to exist in 2003, when Congress created the Department of Homeland Security. INS’s functions were split between USCIS, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and U.S. Customs and Order Protection. All three new agencies operate in the Department of Homeland Security. Anyone claiming to offer assistance with the INS is offering help with a non-existent agency.

The New York and New Jersey immigration attorneys at Samuel C. Berger, PC represent immigrants seeking work visas, investor visas, and other ways to come to, or remain in, the United States. To schedule a consultation with one of our skilled attorneys today, contact us online or at NY (212) 380-8117 or NJ (201) 587-9200.

More Blog Posts:

Sister of New Jersey Cancer Patient Granted Visa to Try to Save Her Life, New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, December 14, 2011
New Bill Proposes Helping Indonesians Remain Legally in New Jersey, New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, December 13, 2011
Photo credit: bshafer on stock.xchng.