New Immigration Bills Open the Door for Scammers
By Nina Mohan
President Biden’s proposed immigration reforms could provide a pathway to citizenship for over 11 million undocumented immigrants, but the proposed changes also offer fresh opportunity for scammers who know how to exploit the complicated and sometimes confusing immigration process.
“Scammers do follow the headlines,” said Federal Trade Commission attorney Emily Wu, adding that with new immigration legislation in the news, it’s the perfect time to approach potential victims.
Immigrants are often targeted because scammers know how to exploit their lack of familiarity with life in the United States, Wu said. They’re also less likely to report scams for fear of having to reveal personal information to the government and with the recent influx of migrants on the Southern border also in the news, the FTC wants people to know it’s safe to report.
“We do know that people in certain situations may not want to reveal personal information to the government. But we do want to hear about scams people may be facing on the Southern border and the workaround is that we have an anonymous reporting system,” Wu explained. “We don’t ask questions about immigration status and people can tell us as much or as little as they want. Reporting fraud helps the community and there are versions of the site in both Spanish and English,” she said.
According to Wu, immigrants typically face three types of scams: form completion scams, government imposter scams, and affinity scams, which take advantage of things familiar to an immigrant’s country of origin such as language, culture and laws.
Form completion scam attempt to charge people for USCIS forms. While there may be a fee to submit a completed application to the USCIS, you should never pay for blank government forms and you can download them for free at USCIS.gov/forms or order them by calling 1-800-870-3676.
Government imposter scams often take place on the internet with scammers creating websites that feature government seals and American imagery such as the flag. But if it doesn’t have .gov domain, it’s not official and can’t be trusted.
Affinity scams are often run by notarios – people who charge for legal help but who are not lawyers and who don’t have the authority to provide legal guidance. In Mexico and many Central and South American countries notarios can provide legal services and may even be experienced lawyers. But they are not authorized to practice in the United States, said Wu: “Notarios are not recognized or accredited and don’t have a legal license to help, but they take advantage of the confusion about what a notario is and what they are allowed to do.
Misrepresenting legislation is a tactic frequently used by notarios.
“A scammer might say ‘there’s a new pathway to citizenship if you’re a certain type of person, a farmworker, a dreamer,’ but even if what they are saying is true, it’s not yet passed into law,” Wu explained. “By telling people they can take action based on a bill, you already know they are dishonest.”
A good way to avoid being scammed is to be sure the person you’re working with is authorized to provide legal services, Wu said. People seeking assistance with the immigration process can contact the Department of Justice directly, or they can get help from accredited representatives, which are organizations approved by the DoJ’s Executive Office of Immigration Review to provide legal services and representation before the Department of Homeland Security, EOIR and Board of Immigration Appeals.
In Michigan, local immigration experts have reported scams related to Biden’s proposed immigration reforms, including one that claims to enroll people in ‘Biden’s Amnesty plan.’
“Early in the Biden administration we started to get calls from people asking us about the Biden Amnesty program and attorneys who said they could help people sign up,” said Susan E. Reed, Managing Attorney with the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center.
While Biden did implement a 100-day moratorium on deportations his first day in office, there is no Biden Amnesty program, nor have immigration reforms passed, Reed said. “There’s no reason to charge people money in advance to help them with programs that don’t yet exist.”
Reed noted that even legitimate attorneys may attempt to charge people for assistance with programs that don’t yet exist: “Some sort-of reputable attorneys will argue that it’s okay to offer [immigration services based on proposed legislation] but I don’t think it’s acceptable to take money for services that can’t be provided. Some people will call it a retainer, but I just don’t think it’s ethical,” she said.