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.
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.
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.