State Senator Says Aliens Are Targets of 'Con Artists'

Times Staff Writer

Ignorance of the new federal immigration law is causing the proliferation of "con artists" who are taking advantage of illegal aliens seeking to qualify for citizenship, State Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles) said Monday.

Torres, at a Capitol press conference with State Sen. Nicholas C. Petris (D-Oakland) and several representatives of Latino and Asian immigrants, urged passage of state legislation that would increase penalties for those who take money for promising illegal aliens "special favors" from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Through an interpreter, Jose Santana of East Palo Alto said he gave $1,400 to Wally Aetonu, who ran an immigration consulting business in East Palo Alto. Aetonu promised to provide Santana and others with green cards that denote legal-resident status, he said, but the cards never came through. Published reports have indicated that a number of illegal aliens have made similar complaints of fraud against Aetonu, and that the total sum involved is at least $100,000.

Subject of Probe

Mary Lou Listug, an INS special agent based in San Francisco, said that Aetonu is the subject of "an ongoing investigation and that the case has been presented to the U.S. attorney" for possible prosecution. Aetonu could not be reached Monday for comment.

Petris said that the new immigration law has "flushed out" many people calling themselves consultants, or sometimes notaries public, a title that Petris said implies to some Latinos a legal authority that the notary does not have. Many charge "exorbitant fees . . . and make more and more demands for money," he said.

The Torres-Petris bill, introduced last month, would require the posting of signs at offices of immigration consultants specifying in English and the predominant language spoken in the area the rights of the client. A toll-free telephone number would be established to assist with complaints. Fines would be increased against violators.

'Vulnerable Population'

Ronald Wakabayashi, a representative of the Japanese American Citizens League, said that people seeking amnesty under the new immigration law are "a very vulnerable population." He likened the confusion felt by those trying to fill out immigration forms to "citizens adjusting to the (IRS' new) W-4 form . . . only a greater level of complication."

Torres urged anyone seeking to become a citizen under the new immigration law to first call a local church or community organization for referrals before paying an immigration consultant.

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