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First, a Crime Must Be Reported

Con artists have often struck gold in America’s immigrant communities. Cruel frauds of various sorts are common in border states and other regions with large immigrant populations. Many newcomers don’t know how the system works, and that makes them vulnerable to operators such as unscrupulous immigration consultants.

Scams that target undocumented immigrants are rarely punished because many of the victims fear that reporting a crime could put them in legal jeopardy. The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office now has moved to mitigate this problem, an important step in this center of immigrants.

So far, a task force in the D.A.'s office has charged 22 immigration consultants with misdemeanors and accused two of felony fraud against immigrants. This week a swindler, accused of grand theft, was found guilty and sentenced to a year in jail. When more of his fellow con artists join him behind bars, Los Angeles County will be a better place.

The phony consultants often pose as attorneys and promise poor immigrants the impossible, like a citizenship certificate for an adult daughter residing abroad. Throughout Southern California there are thousands of unscrupulous immigration consultants, and this horde will not be easy to put out of business.

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Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti’s strategy is to focus on ads by immigration consultants and to probe any businesses found to be lacking the required $25,000 bond on file with the secretary of state’s office. Forcing these operators to obtain the bond would, at the least, put the victim in a better position to recover some of his or her losses. The inspection also allows the investigators to detect signs of other illegalities.

However, the best way to stop abuse is for victims to come forward. A serious hurdle to reporting was removed when the D.A. decided not to turn undocumented immigrants over to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Complainants will be dealt with solely as the victims of crime.

The INS too should encourage people to report fraudulent operators, but for that to happen the federal agency must offer some shield for victims who are in the United States illegally.

There’s work to do on the priorities in this effort, but the goal, putting criminals out of business, is solid.

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