City Atty. Mike Feuer and Los Angeles County officials on Thursday unveiled an effort to prosecute con artists who dupe immigrants into paying exorbitant sums for help with their legal cases.
The scams — some offering to expedite asylum claims or other immigration matters — are expected to increase as federal officials carry out President Obama's order extending temporary stays of deportation for up to 5 million people.
If an offer seems too good to be true, Feuer said, "it probably is."
Some immigration scammers claim to be licensed attorneys but actually are state-accredited consultants allowed to translate answers on government forms but not suggest answers or tell clients which forms to file. Others are notary publics who take advantage of the fact that the Spanish word for "notary" means "lawyer" in some Latin American countries.
To assist immigrants with the federal application process, local officials are planning several town hall meetings early next year and developing information guides printed in Spanish, Tagalog, Chinese and Korean.
The guides will advise immigrants to consult only licensed attorneys or those authorized to provide legal advice, and warn against paying people who claim that they can speed up the application process.
Scam artists can ruin an immigrant's chance to stay in the country legally by filling out an application incorrectly — or by failing to file it at all.
Rigo Reyes, chief of investigations at Los Angeles County's Department of Consumer Affairs, said some immigration consultants have charged people tens of thousands of dollars. He said his agency was training additional investigators to work on immigration fraud cases.
Those convicted of practicing law without a license or grand theft can face up to a year in jail.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will begin accepting applications in February for the expanded Deferred Action for Child Arrivals program, which grants a three-year deferral of deportation to many immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as minors. It will start accepting applications in May for a similar program that offers the same temporary legal status to the parents of U.S. citizens.