Recently in the news there have been investigations into what is termed immigration fraud—whereby consultants who are not licensed attorneys are helping immigrants fill out important USCIS documents. The news comes at a time when immigration, especially from Central America, is at a high, and when sometimes desperate undocumented immigrants are willing to talk to anyone who gives them a fair deal in assisting with paperwork. This blog is dedicated to better understanding how this process works, the consequences for lying on immigration documentation, and how to better spot fraudsters if you are yourself in the middle of an immigration application.
What is Immigration Fraud?
In the United States, if you are going to help immigrants file paperwork with the USCIS, you need to be an accredited attorney. This is why on so many USCIS documents there is a section at the end of the application for attorneys to sign their name and provide their contact information. Immigration fraud is essentially any non-licensed attorneys acting as though they are attorneys, and charging immigrants a reduced fee to remain competitive and bring in more clients in order to make a living off of the immigration system.
Unfortunately, many real immigration attorneys charge exorbitant sums of money in order to help immigrants with their documentation, and to build a case for various immigration benefits, and such fees are simply impossible to pay for some who have come to the United States and are not well off.
Consequences of the Practice
If you are an immigrant and knowingly choose to hire an immigration “consultant” to do your paperwork and this person is not a licensed attorney, there might be consequences for your action. While nothing will happen to you directly involving U.S. law, you might be given bad advice and end up paying someone who doesn’t help your immigration situation. For example, there are several different procedures and supporting documents that need to be presented with every USCIS application. Your so called consultant might have insufficient knowledge of U.S. immigration law if they are not a licensed attorney.
Therefore, you should avoid immigration fraud because while you might not get into trouble for hiring a fake lawyer, you might regret paying their filing fee if they don’t give you expert advice on the immigration benefit you are seeking.
Another issue that is less common, but still happens, is when a fake immigration lawyer uses their lack of knowledge to inform their client to lie about something on their paperwork. This is a more serious situation that should be addressed. If you are seeking any immigration benefit, it is important that you tell the truth on any of the USCIS document you are filing. If you don’t and immigration officers find out, the following could happen:
1. Your application will most likely to effectively denied.
2. If your falsehoods are serious enough, you could be put into removal proceedings or possibly deported from the U.S. (worst case scenario).
3. Your misinformation could have consequences for any future immigration benefit you are seeking such as a visa renewal, green card renewal, or application for a travel document. You could also have a future petition denied for a close family member trying to immigrate to the U.S.
Overall, it might be appealing to want to hire an immigration consultant who charges a low rate for documentation assistance. However, the main problem is that U.S. immigration law is very complicated, involves many subtle and nuanced details, and therefore should be dealt with by professional, licensed attorneys. Although it might be tempting to get a good deal completing your forms, immigrants should note that they might have to start the entire process all over again if they are given false or incomplete information.