Con Artists Prey on Immigrants Seeking Legal Help

immigrantconLos Angeles city officials are working with the Department of Consumer Affairs to crack down on con artists who are taking advantage of changes in immigration legislation to illegally give advice to immigrants. Jesus Luna Lozano of San Fernando Valley was recently arrested for acting as an immigration attorney, despite being prohibited from practicing law 12 years ago.

Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer is cracking down on immigration fraud in an attempt to protect immigrants who may be taken advantage of as they try to become legal citizens. At a news conference on Feb. 5, Feuer explained that his office had received complaints about Lozano and sent undercover officers to investigate. The investigators received legal advice on immigration issues twice, and the city is filing six counts of fraud against Lozano.

“Attorneys are professionals licensed by their states of practice, and every attorney is bound by rules of professional conduct,” says Susan Cho Figenshau, Attorney, Susan Cho Figenshau, P.C. “Standards are high, and my experience is, failures to meet those standards are rare. It’s a shame when precious law enforcement resources must be deployed against fakes.”

Part of the reason that so many scammers are able to take advantage of immigrants is the Spanish word for notary, which also means “lawyer” in some Latin American countries. Many of the scammers claiming to be part of immigration law groups are immigration consultants who are state certified to translate answers on immigration forms. Others are public notaries who are taking advantage of language nuances. Most scammers promise immigrants to assist them with requesting asylum or work permits, then do the work improperly or don’t do it at all.

“I agree there sometimes is a cultural component to the scam scenario,” adds Figenshau. “Information is widely available, from the government’s USCIS web site, to pro bono legal services agencies, to attorneys whose practices are limited to immigration law. It is too bad the few “bad guys” out there would intentionally take harm and take advantage of people. Immigration law services are like other services, and it would be wise to ask whether the potential service provider is a licensed attorney, verify licensure. Also, it would be wise to verify the reputation of the person and the duration and nature of the person’s legal practice. With so many sources of correct information and reliable services, hopefully, the incidents of scammers’ success will decrease.”

Rigo Reyes, the Department of Consumer Affairs’ chief of investigation, estimates that there may be up to 2,500 people fraudulently providing legal advice about immigration law in the state of California.

“Over the years, we’ve seen it happen again and again,” Feuer explained in the news conference. “With some immigration announcement come the scam artists.”

Los Angeles is currently running campaigns to connect eligible immigrants with licensed immigration law groups for assistance.

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