Earlier this month, the City of Oakland won a groundbreaking $15.1 million dollar civil judgment against a fraudulent immigration consulting company, American Legal Services (ALS), that had scammed countless immigrants in the Bay Area.
Immigration or notario fraud is only limited by one’s imagination, but commonly occurs as unlicensed lawyers, paralegals or other individuals (or in the case of ALS, “consultants,”) presenting themselves as licensed attorneys; taking money and applying for benefits for which immigrants are ineligible and therefore risking their cases; or simply taking money and not doing anything. The consequences of immigration fraud are devastating. Beyond the financial loss, which can often be a family’s entire savings, the improper practice of immigration law can result in immigrants previously not in deportation proceedings to be facing deportation. It can separate families.
One of the challenges in combatting immigration fraud is that immigrants are fearful to speak out against the perpetrators, particularly when their immigration cases have already been jeopardized.
Hopefully, the judgment in favor of the City of Oakland sends a strong message that immigrants will not be silent victims and that such scams will not go unpunished. The case brought by the Oakland City Attorney’s Office has been many years in the making. In its early stages, the City of Oakland hosted an event at City Hall with trilingual Know Your Rights (KYR) trainings, materials and skits on the problem of immigration fraud, as well as free individual consultations with vetted immigration attorneys and resources to connect to legitimate legal services. I had the opportunity to participate in the event, and the idea that my city literally opened its City Hall doors to immigrants to come forward in a safe space to learn about this issue still warms my heart. To date, all the money that has been collected as a result of this city suit has gone to the victims. Hopefully, Oakland’s case can be viewed as a model for other cities to replicate.
Resources on Immigration Fraud: