Federal Government Launches Initiative Targeting Immigration Legal Aid Scams

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Interestingly, the crackdown comes on the heels of Alabama's passage of the toughest, to date, illegal immigration law, set to go into effect in September. This follows Arizona's passage of a similar law last year.

Alejandro Mayorkas, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, explained in the June 9th washingtonpost.com article, ''Government targets immigration legal aid scams, warns to watch for fake legal offers'', that the federal government's national initiative is aimed at educating immigrants about the visa application process, as ''The primary goal is to provide immigrants with the information they need to make wise choices,'' Mayorkas was quoted as saying.

Because they have large immigrant populations, the government's effort will focus, at first, on these major cities: Atlanta, Baltimore, Detroit, Fresno, Calif., Los Angeles, New York, and San Antonio. Brochures, posters, billboards, transit advertisements and online resources in 14 languages will be used in the campaign.

Denise Frazier, head of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Atlanta was quoted as saying: ''We want to be sure we protect this very vulnerable immigrant community. We want people to be sure to know how to seek the appropriate immigration advice.''

The government's campaign will permit federal law enforcement access to information from the Federal Trade Commission's consumer fraud complaint database. This will, hopefully, make it easier for authorities to spot scammers.

Assistant U.S. Attorney General Tony West is the head the Justice Department's civil division, and explained in the washingtonpost.com article that the effort was first and foremost going after people who claimed they were ''notarios'' or ''notarios publicos''. These are Spanish words and phrases that generally refer to lawyers in Latin America.

The biggest challenge the government faces is trying to educate the immigrant community about paying unlicensed people to help them. Often, the victims are putting forth their best efforts to follow the law.

It's a vicious circle, explained Brock Nicholson, the special agent in charge of Atlanta's U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office. After they've been scammed, the immigrants often turn to an illegal business, such as fake ID sales, in order to remain in the country.

''They're out more money and then could be approached by even more nefarious individuals from the black market,'' he was quoted as saying.

Additionally, many victims of ‘notario' fraud are too afraid, or ashamed, to come forward.

Per the washingtonpost.com article, West and Morton both agreed that often, immigrants often don't find out they've been a scam victim until their case is resolved, and that many cases of fraud go unreported annually.

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