DHS, DOJ and FTC Collaborate with State and Local Partners in Unprecedented Effort
WASHINGTON—The U.S. government unveiled Thursday June 9th a multi-agency, nationwide initiative to combat immigration services scams. The Departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and Justice (DOJ) and theFederal Trade Commission (FTC) are leading this historic effort.
This initiative targets immigration scams involving the unauthorized practice of immigration law (UPIL),which occurs when legal advice and/or representation regarding immigration matters is provided by anindividual who is not an attorney or accredited representative.
“We are dedicated to protecting vulnerable immigrants from those who seek to exploit them,” said U.S.Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Alejandro Mayorkas. “Through our sustainedoutreach, enforcement and education efforts, and our close collaboration with our federal, state, and localpartners, we will provide the communities we serve with the help needed to combat this perniciousproblem.”
This initiative is set upon three pillars—enforcement, education and continued collaboration—designed to stop UPIL scams and prosecute those who are responsible; educate immigrants about thesescams and how to avoid them; and inform immigrants about the legal immigration process and where tofind legitimate legal advice and representation.
“This coordinated initiative targets those who prey on immigrant communities by making promises theydo not keep and charging for services they are not qualified to provide,” said Tony West, AssistantAttorney General for the Civil Division of the Department of Justice. “We are attacking this problem boththrough aggressive civil and criminal enforcement and by connecting qualified lawyers with victims whoare trying to navigate a complicated immigration system.”
The Department of Justice, through United States Attorneys’ Offices and the Civil Division’s Office ofConsumer Protection Litigation, is investigating and prosecuting dozens of cases against so-called“notarios.” In the last year, DOJ has worked with investigators at the FBI, ICE, and USCIS, and with stateand local partners, to secure convictions—with sentences up to eight years in prison and forfeiture andrestitution of over $1.8 million. This is in addition to the many actions at the state and local levels thathave been filed against individuals and businesses engaged in immigration services scams.
ICE has also long been pursuing immigration services fraud cases in part through its 18 Document andBenefit Fraud Task Force offices across the country. In a recent case in West Palm Beach, Fla., ICEHomeland Security Investigations agents arrested an individual on May 26 who had posed as an attorneyand processed more than 3,000 fraudulent immigration applications.
“Notarios and other illegal immigration service providers take advantage of unsuspecting immigrantstrying to navigate the immigration system,” said ICE Director John Morton. “ICE will continue to workwith our federal, state and local partners to combat notario fraud and protect the integrity of the legalimmigration system.”
Meanwhile, FTC has made it easier for consumers to alert law enforcement about these scams by creatinga new Immigration Services code in the Consumer Sentinel Network, its online consumer complaintdatabase. “This is a central location for consumers to report complaints and for our law enforcementpartners to find and share information about scams,” said FTC Commissioner Edith Ramírez.
Sentinel, as the network is called, is a secure online database that holds more than 6 million consumerfraud complaints. Shared with more than 2,000 law enforcement entities including ICE, DOJ and nowUSCIS, it has become the primary repository for complaints involving allegations of immigration servicesscams. Sentinel will serve as an investigative tool for USCIS Fraud Detection and National Securityofficers, and will bolster communication between organizations on immigration services scam-relatedcases.
The initiative’s education component will focus on empowering immigrant communities to avoidunscrupulous individuals and businesses engaged in UPIL. USCIS’s efforts will be primarily aimed atproviding immigrants with the information they need to make informed choices when seeking legaladvice and representation on immigration matters, and reminding them that The Wrong Help Can Hurt.
USCIS unveiled a new brochure, a poster, public service announcements for use on radio and inprint publications, billboard and transit ads, and a new Web resource center that includes a video. Allprinted materials are available in English and Spanish, and materials in 12 additional languages areavailable online. To bolster this outreach effort, DOJ’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR)and FTC will produce and distribute educational materials for different populations that may be affected by immigration services scams.
As part of the initiative’s emphasis on providing qualified legal assistance to this vulnerable population, EOIR’s Recognition and Accreditation program, DOJ, USCIS, and FTC are working together to increasethe number of EOIR-recognized organizations and accredited representatives, particularly in underservedareas. Organizations and representatives seeking to provide lawful immigration services must berecognized by EOIR.
“EOIR is hard at work to increase access for our government partners, nonprofit organizations, andindividuals in immigration proceedings,” said EOIR Director Juan P. Osuna. “Through a combination ofefforts, including reporting fraud, educating the public and dedicated outreach, we are bolstering ourefforts toward growing a force of legitimate legal services providers and getting rid of fraudsters.”
EOIR is improving its Recognition and Accreditation Program by increasing communication with thepublic, providing easier application processing, and giving timely, accurate information to the publicregarding which organizations have representatives available to represent individuals in proceedings.
DOJ’s Civil Division and Access to Justice Initiative are involved in an effort to train more attorneys tohandle the cases of immigration fraud victims. As a result of these efforts, DOJ announced thatnongovernmental organizations, working with local partners, will organize a pro bono legal clinic inBaltimore later this summer to assist victims of an enforcement action announced by the FTCtoday. Driven by a continuing dialogue with DOJ, the City Bar of New York, the New York State BarAssociation, the New York Office of the Attorney General, the Katzmann Study Group, andnongovernmental organizations, a legal training program will be launched this summer in New York Cityto expand the pool of lawyers who can assist in immigration matters.
For more information about USCIS’s education initiative, please visit www.uscis.gov/avoidscams or follow on Twitter, YouTube and the USCIS blog, The Beacon.
A list of federal, state and local immigration services cases and additional information regarding EOIR’s Recognition and Accreditation Program are available on DOJ’s website.
To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTCHELP(1-877-382-4357). Like the FTC on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.