In Wake of Obama's Executive Action, Advocates Warn About Scams

In Wake of Obama's Executive Action, Advocates Warn About Scams

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President Obama announced on Thursday his plan to take executive action on immigration. His plan would revise enforcement priorities to focus on recent arrivals and those who had committed serious crimes. It would expand the existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and create a new deferred action program for parents of U.S.-citizen or legal-permanent-resident children who have lived in the country for more than five years. It would also revise the legal immigration system, with a special focus on science, technology and entrepreneurs.

There is no new application available yet, however, and advocates are warning immigrants to stay tuned to trusted media sources and community groups to get accurate information.

Any time immigration reform is in the news, advocates warn, immigrant families are vulnerable to scam artists and unscrupulous individuals who promise to help them in exchange for a fee.

Earlier this year, NAM reported that the San Francisco District Attorney’s office had seen a spike in immigration fraud cases in 2013, prompting it to launch a multilingual campaign to educate immigrant families about how to avoid scams.

NAM found that some people were seeking immigration advice from unqualified individuals, and that translation issues were contributing to the confusion.

For example, in most Latin American countries the term “notario” means lawyer. But in the United States, a notary just means someone who is licensed by the state to witness and sign documents.

"Notaries can't represent a person in court, they can't assist them in a formal legal process; they can only fill out forms. But anyone can fill out a form," said Diana Otero, coordinator of the immigration program at Catholic Charities of San Mateo. She says immigrants need to get help from attorneys or qualified people that know how to deal with the immigration process.

Vanessa Sandoval, program director with Services, Immigrant Rights and Education Network (SIREN) in San Jose, offered this advice to undocumented immigrants who go to notaries to complete immigration work. She spoke with Maria Antonieta Mejia.

Why aren’t notaries a good alternative to immigration attorneys?

They do not have a degree to practice law and they do not have the legal right to offer those services. What they are doing is taking money from people offering services they are not qualified to perform. The result, in many cases, is deportation.

How do you determine whether someone is qualified to help with immigration work?

In the United States, practicing attorneys - those licensed by the American Bar Association or the State Bar Association - and non-profit organizations certified by the Board of Immigration Appeals have the right to offer legal services. No one else.

What recourse is there for victims of immigration fraud?

The first thing to do is report the person to the proper authorities. There are dedicated attorneys at the DA’s office focused on investigating fraud cases. You can also report that notary directly to Immigration or file a civil suit.

Where should immigrants look first for help?

Start with non-profit organizations. In San Jose, there are more than seven organizations certified by the Board of Immigration Appeals that offer this type of service. If an organization does not have the capacity to help, it can offer recommendations for private attorneys.

For more information about SIREN, please visit siren-bayarea.org.