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Immigration Fraud

Fraud directed at legal and undocumented immigrants is a serious problem in Los Angeles County. While immigration fraud can take many forms, it most often occurs as false promises for immigration services that sound too good to be true. By making false promises, con artists attempt to justify excessive "service" fees they demand. Once a victim pays the large sum of money, the con artist refuses to help the individual and often reports the person to the INS as undocumented.

The District Attorney’s Consumer Protection Division prosecutes businesses engaging in immigration fraud as the law breakers that they are. To that end, the Consumer Protection Division has organized the Los Angeles Immigration Fraud Task Force, a multi-agency law enforcement effort which attacks immigration fraud through the investigation of fraudulent activity, the prosecution of fraud artists, and educational efforts. Those charged with fraudulent immigration practices face severe monetary fines and potential jail sentences.

California law protects consumers from dishonest immigration consultants and attorneys. The following information explains What To Look For in an immigration consultant or attorney and offers Where Victims Can Find Help.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Immigration Consultants: California law regulates providers of non-legal immigration services. The more you know about what they can and cannot do for you, the less likely you are to become a victim.

Immigration consultants may assist you in completing forms, translating materials, obtaining and submitting necessary documents, and finding legal aid. However, they are not lawyers, may not give legal advice, and do not necessarily have any special training. Be wary and look for the following:

  • All immigration consultants must file a $50,000 bond with the California Secretary of State’s Office or be subject to criminal charges. This bond is important because the money is used by the State to benefit any person damaged by fraud or other unlawful acts. You have the right to request proof of this bond. If a consultant cannot show you proof, look for somebody else to help you.

  • Consultants must always use a written contract when making an agreement with you. This contract must be approved by the State of California. Furthermore, the law requires that the contract be in English and your native language. Make sure it lists all services to be performed and their total cost. You have the right to cancel the contract for any reason within three days and to receive a full refund.

  • It is illegal for a consultant to use the terms "Notario" or "Licenciado" or to misrepresent himself or herself as an attorney. Consultants must disclose in advertising that they are not lawyers.

  • Consultants should not split fees with attorneys in any matter.

Attorneys: Attorneys, who must have proof of bar association membership, may also assist you with your immigration status. Immigration attorneys must disclose in their advertising that they are active members of the State Bar and licensed to practice in California. If their practice is limited to immigration law, attorneys need not be a member of the California Bar, but must either be admitted to a bar in another state or be before the Board of Immigration Appeals. Attorneys must always be able to disclose their eligibility status.

To verify if an individual is a California attorney, contact the California State Bar at (213) 765-1000. If you are working with an attorney, understand that he or she should never split fees with or give a referral fee to immigration consultants.

WHERE VICTIMS CAN FIND HELP

Reporting Possible Crimes: If you believe an immigration consultant has cheated you, you can get help. The District Attorney’s Office urges you to notify authorities when fraud occurs. To report a possible crime, contact your local police or sheriff’s department. Or, if you would like to file a consumer complaint about fraudulent activity, contact the Department of Consumer Affairs at (213) 974-1452.

You may also call the District Attorney’s Consumer Protection Division at (213) 580-3273. We are here to help you, regardless of your residence status, and to ensure that all immigrants are protected from fraud.

Seeking Legal Aid: If you would like to speak to an attorney about how to get your money back from an immigration consultant who you believe cheated you, there are many agencies that can assist you. The Los Angeles County Bar Association can refer you to qualified attorneys. Call (213) 243-1525.

If you need legal assistance but cannot afford an attorney, you may contact the following organizations:

  • Asian-Pacific American Legal Center
    (Chinese, Korean, and other languages)
    (213) 977-7500

  • Central-American Resource Center
    (CARECEN; English and Spanish speaking)
    (213) 385-7800, ext. 130

  • Chinatown Service Center
    (213) 808-1700

  • Los Angeles County Bar Immigration Project
    (English and Spanish speaking)
    (213) 485-1872

  • Mexican-American Bar Association
    Lawyer Referral and Information Service
    (English and Spanish speaking)
    (213) 745-6574

  • Mexican-American Legal Defense Educational Fund
    (MALDEF; English and Spanish speaking)
    (213) 629-2512

Free Legal Service Providers

The U.S. Department of Justice has compiled the following list of organizations that provide free legal aid for individuals interested in changing their immigration status.

  • Immigration Services of Santa Rosa
    132 N. Maclay Ave.
    San Fernando, CA 91340
    (818) 361-4341
    (May charge nominal fee)

  • International Institute of Los Angeles
    3845 Selig Place
    Los Angeles, CA 90031
    (323) 224-3800
    (May charge nominal fee)

  • Catholic Charities of Los Angeles Immigration and Refugees Services
    1530 James M. Wood
    P.O. Box 15095
    Los Angeles, CA 90015
    (213) 251-3471
    (May charge nominal fee)

  • Barbara J. Darnell, Esq.
    3255 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 601
    Los Angeles, CA 90010
    (213) 388-0729

  • Public Counsel
    601 S. Ardmore Ave.
    Los Angeles, CA 90005
    (213) 385-2977

  • Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles
    1550 W. 8th St.
    Los Angeles, CA 90017
    (213) 640-3800
    Toll free: (800) 399-4529

  • El Rescate Legal Services
    1340 S. Bonnie Brae St.
    Los Angeles, CA 90006
    (213) 387-3284

  • San Fernando Valley Neighborhood Legal Services, Inc.
    13327 Van Nuys Blvd.
    Pacoima, CA 91331
    (818) 896-5211


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Site updated: 10 Oct 2013
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