From sea to shining sea, scammers are preying on those pursuing the American dream. Cons, businesses and even unscrupulous attorneys are ogling the wallets of immigrants seeking green cards. For those seeking the right to live in the United States, the path to citizenship can be blocked by bad legal advice or blatant fraud.
In the last few days, the Federal Trade Commission issued a warning about visa lottery rip-offs, our office received an e-mail posing as the U.S. Department of State, and Washington legislators have considered a bill we introduced to protect immigrants from erroneous legal advice.
The FTC says some businesses and attorneys claim – for a fee – that they will make it easier for someone to enter the federal government’s annual Diversity Immigrant Visa program. The program exists but there’s no charge to enter and applicants are selected randomly from those who submitted entries and meet the eligibility requirements. In addition to charging high fees, some of these “helpers” jeopardize an applicant’s opportunity to participate by filing multiple entries. This year’s application period has ended but the Web site is www.dvlottery.state.gov. Visa and passport application forms are also free and available at www.travel.state.gov.
The State Department doesn’t notify selected applicants by mail or e-mail. But that doesn’t stop scammers from sending bogus messages like the one here that we received through the AGO’s Webmaster account.
Meanwhile, state legislators are considering changes we requested to Washington’s Immigration Assistant Practices Act (RCW 19.154). The creation of the “immigration assistant” status under Washington’s Immigration Assistant Practices Act has inadvertently opened the doors to the unauthorized practice of law. The Attorney General’s Office has settled several cases with illegal providers of immigration services – and we have additional investigations underway. (See related All Consuming blog post: Bad legal advice nearly causes deportation.)
Proposed amendments to RCW 19.154 eliminate the “immigration assistant” designation and the requirement to file with the Secretary of State’s Office. Senate Bill 5023 substitutes new language that clarifies that individuals who provide immigration-related services can’t provide legal assistance. (The bill wouldn’t affect individuals who are otherwise authorized to provide immigration services under federal law.)
The law also aims to address the problem of immigrants assistants who take advantage of the linguistic similarities between the Spanish term “notario publico,” which in Mexico and some other Latin American countries means “attorney,” with the English term “notary public,” which implies no legal expertise whatsoever. The Associated Press reports that 15 other states already have anti-notarios laws on the books, and six states are working on similar legislation.
SB 5023 was referred to House Rules on March 21.
In this video, panelists at the American Bar Association 2009 annual meeting talk about notario scams and warn that false and incorrect documents can drastically delay or ruin the citizenship process for those seeking to legally immigrate to the U.S.: