The Obama administration’s plan to reprioritize the nation’s deportation efforts is prompting warnings to immigrants to avoid scammers who approach them with fraudulent offers to help them apply for amnesty.
In August, the Department of Homeland Security announced plans to review the cases of 300,000 illegal immigrants to focus deportation efforts on those aliens who are convicted felons. Those who have not committed serious crimes could be allowed to stay in the United States, and critics have said the refocus amounts to amnesty for large groups of immigrants.
But in an advertising campaign launched in Yuma County and around the nation, the American Immigration Lawyers Association is stating emphatically that the change in policy is not the same as amnesty.
The campaign is aimed at aliens it fears will pay hundreds or thousands of dollars in what they think are fees to scammers offering to help them apply for legal residency under an amnesty program.
Sharing those concerns is Fernando Quiroz, director of American Beginnings, a Yuma nonprofit organization accredited by the federal government to prepare applications for legal residency and naturalization.
“All the government said was that it is going to review about 300,000 deportation cases that are in the courts to see if they qualify to stay in the country. But it is not an amnesty, and that’s where there’s a risk of people being deceived.”
He said the most serious risk is posed by unscrupulous notary publics who misrepresent themselves as attorneys or as individuals accredited to help immigrants apply for legal residency.
“There are more of them all the time all around the county,” said Quiroz. “We estimate that 50 percent of the people who are helped by them in applying for immigration documents are rejected, and they are charged thousands of dollars for the paperwork.
“We are asking people not to let themselves be deceived, that they seek the advice of an attorney or an accredited immigration attorney, and that they do nothing based on that (DHS) announcement.”
In Arizona, it is a Class 6 felony for a nonaccredited attorney to prepare immigration applications or to provide immigration counseling, but Quiroz said victims of unscrupulous notaries rarely step forward to report them to the authorities.
Quiroz added that part of the problem stems from immigrants’ lack of knowledge about the difference between notaries in this country and Mexico.
“Here any person who is registered with the state can be a notary, while in Mexico to be a notary, you have to be an attorney. So people think that here all notaries are also attorneys.”