Category: Choosing an Attorney

Why You Should Never Send A Letter to USCIS

Is it ever a good idea to send a letter to USCIS?

Hi, I’m Jim Hacking, immigration lawyer practicing law throughout the United States out of our office here in St. Louis, Missouri. We had a couple of situations lately where people came to us with screwed up immigration cases.

One of the main reasons their cases were screwed up, it was because they sent a letter to USCIS. Now, obviously, you can send USCIS general letters asking them questions about the status your case and things like that.

But the one time that you don’t want to send a letter to the USCIS is when they’ve asked you for more information or you’ve already had your interview. Generally speaking, if you’re in a situation where you’re having to write a letter to the USCIS to explain something, that tells me, it tells us, that the case is so complicated that you definitely need to have an attorney involved. If you are finding yourself thinking about, even just thinking about sending a letter to USCIS, you really, really, really should go first and talk to an experienced immigration attorney.

Let me tell you what happens. In this situation, a man had filed for an I-130 based on his marriage to a U.S. citizen. He had had an arrest for domestic violence. Although the charges were ultimately dropped because his wife decided to not press charges, USCIS found out about it and asked him about during his interview.

He was so distraught and upset after his interview that he thought it would be a good idea to write a letter trying to explain to USCIS why his case wasn’t that serious, why it wasn’t really abuse. When you read the letter, it just … Every paragraph got worse and worse. His English wasn’t fantastic, but more importantly, the substance of the letter was just terrible. He basically tried to justify why it was okay for him to have hit his wife in this one situation.

Now, obviously, if he’d gone to see an attorney, no attorney would ever let him send a letter like that. There’s absolutely no way that he could ever justify hitting a woman, specifically his wife, and there was no way that USCIS was going to say, “Oh! Thanks for the letter. Now we know that we should just go ahead and approve this case.” Now the guy’s in serious trouble, mostly because he went to his interview without an attorney, but more importantly, because he wrote this letter.

If you ever receive a request for evidence or a continuance of your immigration case and you’re being asked to provide additional documentation, that is generally a really good sign that you need help. You’re not going to be able to get this approved on your own. In fact, you’re probably just going to make matters worse.

You know, we’re plenty busy here. If you don’t hire us, that’s just fine. We’re making this video as a service to you to make sure that you reach out to somebody who knows what they’re doing, to somebody who deals with the immigration service every day, knows how to respond to request for evidence, knows how to write a letter that is persuasive and does not damage the case, and basically knows what they’re doing.

You might have gotten your case this far, but you’re now in a different league. You’re really going to have to make sure that you get help, because you can’t do it on your own. It’s a real good sign that things are in trouble when you’re at a point where you feel like you need to send them a letter.

If you have any questions about this, if you’re thinking about sending a letter to USCIS about your case, if you think that you’ve got it all figured out and then you’re going to go ahead and send this letter, we really encourage you not to do that. Instead, give us a call at 314-961-8200. Or you can email us at info@hackinglawpractice.com.

If you liked this video, please click Like below and make sure that you share it with your friends. Be sure to subscribe to all of our social media channels: YouTube, Facebook. We also have an immigration group on Facebook called Immigrant Home. We’d love to have you there. If you have any questions, give us a call.

Thanks a lot and have a good day.

 

Former Las Vegas resident indicted in immigration fraud scam

As if aspiring immigrants don’t already have enough on their plate to be worried about, immigration attorney fraud is all too recurrent. Recently, a former Las Vegas resident was indicted by a grand jury on six felony charges in connection with a common immigration scandal we have seen in the past. An indictment is only a charging document, one that will bring the defendant to court; it does not presume her guilty.

Rena Esther Starks has been accused of falsely representing herself as an attorney, as knowledgeable in immigration practices, and as having connections in our nation’s capital. She made this false representation to numerous aspiring immigrants eager to expedite their process with a qualified lawyer.

In most cases, immigrants are very unfamiliar with the application and bureaucratic process, which makes them vulnerable to anybody that knows enough about immigration to toss around a few scholarly terms and convince the potential immigrant to hire them.

Attorneys are extremely helpful, and arguably necessary, in the immigration process due to its complexity. However, scam artists who pretend to be attorneys can be detrimental to the progress of an immigrant.

Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt elaborates saying, “immigration is an area of law where missteps in the application process can be devastating to those hoping to gain residency or citizenship.” This is because meeting deadlines and completing the requirements is a strenuous and time-consuming procedure and the USCIS does not tend to be very sympathetic.

Individuals seeking assistance with residency and citizenship are encouraged to check the license of attorneys and confirm that they are accredited by the State Bar or recognized by the Board of Immigration Appeals. Licenses of attorneys can be checked here, on the Fight Fraud America website. It is always welcoming and comforting to receive a generous hand; however, one must keep an eye out for swindlers looking to make some cash.

Handcuffs

Immigration scammer swindles family out of $100,000

According to Acting Prosecutor Gurbir Grewal, Bergen County Prosecutor, a man from Buford, Georgia disguised himself as a military law officer to swindle a family seeking to attain permanent resident status in the United States.  

A member of the affected family went to the Palisades Park Police in March 2016 to issue a complaint about the supposed officer.  Following an investigation by the White Collar Crimes Unit and Palisades Park Police Department, Mr. Sung H. Lee was arrested on June 14, 2016.  Mr. Lee was charged with theft by unauthorized practice of immigration law, and deception according to Prosecutor Grewal.  He was held on $75,000 bail pending a July court hearing

Prosecutor Grewal said that Sung Lee, convinced the family to give him more than $100,000.  The money was supposed to go toward helping family members with their current immigration situation.  

Mr. Lee told the family that he was a military officer working on loan to the Palisades Park Police Department and the FBI.  Prosecutor Grewal further said about the encounter that “Mr. Lee presented himself as an individual who could utilize his connections to obtain permanent resident alien status for the [family members].”  According to Prosecutor Grewal, Mr. Lee forged documents that implied he was connected with a “learning center” that could legally sponsor their applications for immigration.  Mr. Lee collected more than $100,000 from the family as a processing fee.  

Prosecutor Grewal asserted that “The fees were never returned and there were no applications processed.”

Handcuffs

Chicago immigration attorney indicted for allegedly filing false asylum cases

Robert DeKelaita, a Chicago-based immigration attorney, was indicted following his client’s admission to authorities that Mr. DeKelaita advised him to lie on his asylum application.  Mr. DeKelaita specializes in representing Iraqi Christians. DeKelaita has been said to have continuously told his clients to distort their past when being interviewed by immigration authorities.  

According to the September 23 indictment, the misinformation included “false names, false religions, false dates of travel, false dates of entry into the United States,” among a host of other falsifications.  The indictment further charges that he “wrote and created false asylum statements detailing non-existent accounts of purported religious persecution, including fictitious accounts of rape and murder, and attached these statements to the [CIS] Form I-589 he submitted on behalf of his clients.”  

Mr. DeKelaita’s translator also faces indictment for “mistranslat[ing] answers given by the clients and add[ing] testimony not actually stated by the clients during the course of the asylum interviews.”

U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon charged Mr. DeKelaita with three counts of immigration fraud, three counts of suborning perjury and one count of conspiracy to commit immigration and naturalization fraud.  

According to federal law, asylum is only granted upon proof of persecution “on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group, or had a well-founded fear of persecution.”  Those that are granted asylum are eligible to receive lawful permanent residency, and possibly naturalized U.S. citizenship.  

Several clients have allegedly been coached to present false information by Mr. DeKelaita.  M.J., a client of DeKelaita’s, was reportedly advised to tell federal immigration officers that she had been threatened by Muslim extremists. Another client, identified as “Client H.A.,” falsely claimed that his house in Iraq had been burned down by Islamic extremists and that his brother was “put on an elimination list.”

 

Robert-Dekelaita

Immigration Attorney convicted of $579,000 fraud scheme

New York immigration attorney Marijan Cvjeticanin was convicted of nine counts of mail fraud after a one week trial in U.S. District Court.  The jury deliberated 2 hours before finding Cvjeticanin guilty.

Cvjeticanin worked at the immigration firm of Wildes & Weinberg, P.C., first as a paralegal and then as an attorney.  He was responsible for preparing Department of Labor certifications and applications for permanent residency for foreign workers.  Firm clients included Automatic Data Processing, Inc. (“ADP”) and Broadridge Financial.

The PERM application process requires that job postings be published in the largest daily newspaper in the area in which employment would occur.  Unbeknownst to his law firm or to the clients, Cvjeticanin created a fictitious company to handle the publication of the classified ads.  But he never ran the ads.  Instead, he fabricated false advertisements and submitted them to the immigration service so as to suggest that the ads had been properly placed.

A routine email audit at Wildes & Weinberg revealed that Cvjeticanin had been running the fictitious company.  A subsequent investigation showed that ADP and Broadridge had paid nearly $579,000 for advertisements related to the PERM process for their employees.  False ads had been generated suggesting that they had been placed in Computer World magazine, as well as the New York Times, the Boston Globe and other newspapers around the country.

Cvjeticanin faces 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each of the nine counts.  Sentencing is scheduled for late August.

Ex-immigration attorney Marijan Cvjeticanin
Ex-immigration attorney Marijan Cvjeticanin

 

Florida Immigration Attorney Disbarred for Continuing to Practice Law While Suspended

Carlo Jean-Joseph, a Florida immigration attorney, was disbarred by the Florida Supreme Court recently.  The Court found Jean-Joseph in contempt of court for continuing to practice law even while his law license was suspended.

Mr. Jean-Joseph’s problems began at the Eleventh Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals.  The Eleventh Circuit notified the Florida Bar that Mr. Jean-Joseph had filed 62 immigration appeals in the course of 1.5 years, but that 32 of those appeals had been dismissed for lack of prosecution.  According to the Court, those cases were dismissed because Mr. Jean-Joseph had failed to file briefs and record excerpts. Although Mr. Jean-Joseph had filed motions to reinstate 24 of the 32 dismissed cases, 10 such motions were denied for the attorney’s failure to follow the Court’s rules.

Further investigation by the Court revealed that a total of 43 petitions for review, out of 85 filed by Mr. Jean-Joseph, had been dismissed for failure to prosecute or failure to file timely notices of appeal.  The Court prohibited Mr. Jean-Joseph from practicing before the immigration court for 3 months, compelled him to attend classes and publicly reprimanded and admonished him.

During his suspension, the Department of Homeland Security sought his suspension before the Board of Immigration Appeals and lower immigration courts.  When Mr. Jean-Joseph moved for reinstatement, DHS opposed it, claiming that the attorney had appeared in at least 5 separate deportation proceedings in Miami while he was suspended.  Mr. Jean-Joseph did not contest this allegation.  The BIA suspended Mr. Jean-Joseph for 120 days, prohibiting him from practicing before any immigration court and/or at USCIS.

In 2008, Mr. Jean-Joseph was suspended for nine months for dishonesty, fraud deciet or misrepresentation.  On April 9, 2009, he received another suspension for failing to appear at an immigration hearing and failing to timely file a motion for rehearing.

The Florida Supreme Court chose to disbar Mr. Jean-Joseph from the practice of law in that state after finding that he continued to practice law while serving a near 5 year suspension.  The court found that he had collected a fee to handle an immigration case, failed to keep the client informed of action taken on the case and subsequently caused the client to lose temporary protected status to stay in the U.S.

State professional responsibility board charges immigration lawyer with unethical conduct

A midwestern immigration attorney finds himself under fire for harassing clients and making misrepresentations to the court.  The Minnesota professional responsibility board has charged the attorney with violating the rules of professional conduct and has given the man 20 days to respond.

The attorney, a native of Nigeria, has been practicing law in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area since the late 1980s.  According to a report in the Star Tribune, the ethics board alleges that the attorney violated the ethics rules on three occasions.

First, the board charges that the attorney overcharged a family from Russia on an asylum application.  The attorney sued the family and won.  However, the family complained to the Board who found that the litigation was frivolous and that his fees were unreasonable.

In the second case, a Nigerian immigrant hired him to convince the immigration service that his marriage was legitimate.  When the immigrant challenged him on his legal fees, the attorney wrote back:

You have mistaken my kindness for weakness.  I did not get where I am today, allowing people like you to punk me.  Perhaps you need to be taught a lesson in life.

The Board charged the attorney with making improper disclosures about his client to the Court, failing to keep his client properly advised and for filing a frivolous claim for fees.

The final charge involved an alleged failure by the attorney to file key documents in a timely manner for an asylum hearing.

The attorney took the unusual step of forwarding the petition to the media and claims that the allegations “are false, mean-spirited and deliberately stated out of context with evil intent to inflict the highest damage to my reputations for reasons I know quite well.”

Our office will follow this case and provide updates as they occur.

 

Fake Immigration agency left victims out thousands of dollars

With immigration legislation being postponed yet again until next year, scam artists are finding it easier to defraud immigrants because of confusion over what the immigration laws finally are. A fake company calling themselves American Legal Services was recently brought to court and ended up having to pay over $15 million. Immigrant advocates warn immigrants that fraud occurs everywhere and it is best to verify with an immigration attorney if they are unsure of how to proceed.

Fake immigration agency scams dozens

Back in 2008, Alberto Muniz stopped by a community clinic with his daughter and decided to check out a company advertising services for immigrants seeking permanent residency in the U.S. Muniz’s wife and family were already U.S. citizens but Muniz was still undocumented and working for a landscaping company at the time.

He went into the business to explain his situation and was promised guidance through the entire application process and preparation for his interview with immigration officials. He was also asked to pay $700 upfront and eventually $2,000. Muniz later found out he was one of dozens of victims who were defrauded by ALS.

Warning to immigrants to consult with lawyers if uncertain

The ALS owners were sued for lying to immigrants and taking their money when they knew their applications would be rejected. In some cases the immigrants had removal proceedings started against them without even knowing as no lawyers worked in the “consulting agency.” This case is only one public one of many where immigrants are taken advantage of for not having legal status.

The reality is that there are many fraudulent companies who are preying on immigrants. It’s hard to track data on these types of cases because it is difficult to track the companies especially if some people are deported or the scam artists flee the country. One lawyer working for California’s Attorney’s Office says, “It’s happening in every major city. The worst ones are happening in smaller, rural, agricultural communities where people can’t be tracked. It’s happening everywhere.”

If you have questions regarding applying for a visa or immigration laws, contact us at 314-961-8200 or visit our contact page.

Congress May Go After Con Artists Who Offer “Help” In Immigration Cases

Congress is planning to extend protections for immigrants who might fall victim to scammers. Many times, crooked lawyers or con artists overstate their ability to help with immigration work and end up causing problems for immigrants while stealing their money. In an attempt to curb these occurrences, new legislation aims to raise the penalties for these offenses.

Lawmakers aim to prevent future immigration fraud

Bills in both chambers are attempting to address the spike in fraud aimed at immigrants. If Congress approves a path to citizenship under the comprehensive immigration reform, lawmakers fear that more immigrants could be approached by unqualified individuals and taken advantage of. Representative Bill Foster introduced a House bill calling for a fine of up to 10 to 15 years in federal prison for offering fraudulent immigration legal services. He calls this “a foreseeable problem” and he aims to address it before scammers do.

Immigration fraud on the rise

In Tatiana Jimenez’s case, she left her native Guatemala to escape an abusive relationship and begin a new life in America. Unfortunately, she fell into the wrong hands when she sought legal help on her immigration status with a deceitful attorney who asked her to sign a contract which promises payment of $2800 and then proceeded to charge her hundreds of dollars for immigration documents which are offered free online by the federal government. Several months later, Jimenez sought help from an immigrant advocacy group and realized that she had indeed been duped. Most of her paperwork had not been filled out and no progress had been made with her case.

“They assured me this wasn’t the way things are, that I wasn’t filling out the right documents and the amount of money (I paid) wasn’t right, either,” Jimenez said.  Many fraud cases such as Jimenez’s have been occurring more frequently as talks of the immigration bill and a possible path to citizenship have immigrants trying to get in ahead of the line. There is no federal statute that addresses the unauthorized practice of immigration law currently, but lawmakers say that putting an effective federal law in place would serve as a great deterrent where local authorities do not have resources to handle the extra workload.

If you are looking for a licensed immigration attorney, have questions regarding immigration reform, applying for a visa or attaining legal status, contact us at 314-961-8200 or visit our contact page.

On The Closing Of A Great Law Firm

I was sad to hear that the Gallop law firm plans to close its doors by the end of the month.  Gallop was founded in 1976 and currently lists 55 attorneys on their website.  These attorneys handle a wide array of legal matters.  The website says that Gallop has over 700 business and individual clients.

According to news reports, many partners and associates learned early last week that the firm would cease to exist in about three weeks’ time.  Many of these attorneys had been with the firm for years.  I certainly feel bad for the attorneys who are losing a job, but I also feel very sad for the support staff at the firm.  The St. Louis legal market has a seemingly high unemployment rate and I’m sure it is worse for support staff.

I think the shuttering of Gallop is a harbinger of things to come.  I think the big firm business model is fundamentally flawed and I think that business and individual clients are focused on value and specialization.  Institutional clients are unwilling to pay high legal bills like they have in the past.  Small, focused law firms specializing in a niche practice like immigration appears to be the wave of the future.  Top-heavy law firms which are often structured in a pyramid with the top earners reaping the majority of the profits are often saddled with large operating costs, expensive leases and outdated fee structures.  Time will tell, but something tells me that the lean firm with a strong focus on particular practice areas will be the leaders of the future.