Once again, the possibility of immigration change is in the air.
This means immigrant sympathizers must get ready for internal warfare. The battle against immigration fraud.
A battle which exists within every immigrant community in the United States.
For each time the mere hint of a new immigration program arises, unscrupulous con artists spring into action.
They know defrauded immigrants, being without legal documents, are afraid to contact law enforcement authorities.
Immigrants victimized by fraud lose far more than the money spent.
Many are left to face deportation and removal from the United States. Their loftiest dreams are transformed into legal nightmares.
Yet, despite the urgency to weed out scammers, most public efforts to combat immigration fraud have primarily centered on simply identifying the types of culprits.
Towards A Clearer Picture Of Immigration Fraud
Whether it’s a governmental agency or a community advocacy organization, the approach is usually two-fold.
First, they point out the bad guys: notarios, legal assistants, and less-than-honest lawyers.
Second, they prescribe basic remedies. Check out their credentials, make sure there are signed contracts, call the bar associations to verify their attorney licenses.
Sure, this is a start.
But that’s all it is.
Many of the bad guys look, sound, and act like the good guys. Hence, this two-part approach is not enough.
Immigrants and their families, who are at risk to being ripped off, need more in-depth advice, more concrete guidance.
They need to know what types of actions to be on the look out for before they become the next victims.
Tracing The Footsteps Of Scam Artists
Over the years, I’ve consulted with several immigrant fraud victims.
Often, it’s too late to help them.
Through such interviews, I’ve gained insight into the ploys of scammers. There are certain patterns, in slightly varying details, repeated over and over again.
Most immigration fraud scams can be classified into five categories.
- The False Friend
- Iron-Clad Promises
- Insider Connections
- Minor Details
- Unqualified Advisors
Immigration news over the past two months have shown that the fears of a new fraud wave are not unwarranted.
Moreover, these stories demonstrate the new immigration fraud schemes are merely the old immigration fraud schemes, recycled with a few new wrinkles.
He speaks to you in your own language. He seems so nice. He seems so sincere.
Why not trust him?
1. Los Angeles, California – Oswaldo Cabrera
Early in May 2010, immigrant rights activist Oswaldo Cabrera announced that he was going on a hunger strike. He claimed such actions were prompted as a response to Arizona, which had just passed its infamous bill targeting undocumented immigrants. Recent allegations call into question whether such activities by Cabrera were merely a guise to lure innocent victims.
2. Elizabeth, New Jersey – Maxwell Poku
In New Jersey, the head of an immigration consultation firm, was sentenced to two years in prison for immigration fraud. Maxwell Poku, 36, admitted paying people to act as sham spouses and providing fraudulent letters of employment, utility bills, credit card statements, W-2 forms and tax returns. Poku is a naturalized United States citizen from Ghana. Several of his victims felt a cultural kinship with him.
You want the best for you and your family. So you’re promised, “There’s no way you can lose.”
3. Trenton, New Jersey – Renee Sumners Mancuso
Former Trenton, New Jersey Municipal Court Judge Renee Sumners Mancuso pleaded guilty to extorting immigrants trying to get legal work status. She faces up to 18 months in prison, according to a deal reached with federal prosecutors. This is one of the first reported immigration fraud cases involving a judge in the U.S.
4. LaVernia, Texas – Yolanda Hernandez de Arteaga and Maria de Lourdes Montano-Vicencio
The former owner of Los Compadres Restaurant in LaVernia, Texas, Yolanda Hernandez de Arteaga, 49, was sentenced to 2 ½ years in federal prison to be followed by three years of supervised release for ripping off immigrants seeking legal documents. Her partner, Maria de Lourdes Montano-Vicencio, 57, who was living illegally in Houston, was also sentenced to more than three years in federal prison for her role in the scheme.
They claimed to have personal contacts with immigration authorities who could provide the victims with Social Security cards, resident alien cards, and work permits in about six months. They collected over $100,000 from more than 60 immigrants. They never provided any documents to the victims.
Absolute guarantees of success, like those above, are often tied to suggestions about ties to a special insider, like a government official, who will ensure a favorable outcome.
With ties like these, what can go wrong?
5. Rancho Cucamonga, California – Constantine Peter Kallas
For several years, Constantine Peter Kallas, a former ICE attorney, was one of the most successful scammers utilizing this ploy.
In the five year period before his arrest, Kallas collected at least $425,000 from his victims in bribes for protection from deportation.
Now, he is one of the most severely punished immigration fraud con artists ever.
Since Kallas was a fellow San Bernardino County immigration attorney, with offices in Rancho Cucamonga, I caught wind of his schemes several years ago.
Here is an earlier post about the widespread scheme used by Kallas which I wrote at the time.
Maybe the date you entered the U.S. is off. Or the country listed as your place of birth is inaccurate. Perhaps your past convictions or arrests were omitted.
In fact, you don’t have to be really husband and wife to file for a marriage visa.
You’re told not to worry. After all, these are just small, irrelevant details.
6. South Florida – 27 Unnamed Individuals
Federal prosecutors have charged 27 people in South Florida with taking part in a marriage fraud ring aimed at bringing immigrants into the U.S. illegally. The names have not been revealed.
Investigators say immigrants were charged a fee of up to several thousand dollars who would then take part in sham weddings. The ring operated from May 2011 to February 2014. People from a wide range of countries were involved, including Argentina, Ukraine, Colombia, Moldova, Israel and Venezuela.
According to some local sources, an attorney was the head of the ring. However, no charges appear to have been filed against any of the ringleaders.
7. Westchester County, New York – Liana Barrientos
Liana Barrientos married 10 times, with nine of her marriages occurring between 1999 and 2002. She was married to eight different men at one time. Upon marriage, they filed for permanent residency.
Seven of the men are from countries “red-flagged” by the Department of Homeland Security, including Egypt, Turkey, Georgia, Pakistan and Mali. One husband was deported in 2006 due to his alleged ties to known terrorist groups.
The fakers. These are those folks who pretend to know more than they really know, or who claim to have credentials or special training which they lack.
This group includes lawyers providing inadequate services on a regular basis, individuals pretending to be lawyers, and lawyers who have lost their licenses to practice law.
This is the category of immigration fraud behaviors upon which most preventive measures exclusively address.
8. Boulder, Colorado – Emily Cohen
According to prosecutors, immigration attorney Emily Cohen took money from several immigrants but failed to provide any services. Her victims paid her at least $100,000. One of her clients was deported and cannot re-enter the U.S. She was sentenced to a six-year prison term.
9. San Diego, California – Micallela Aguilera Coleman
Micallela Aguilera Coleman, already wanted in Michigan for fraud, was arrested for posing as an attorney and taking money from immigrants to help them in their cases. The truth began to surface when a victim reported Coleman to the National City Police Department after she failed to show up at an immigration court hearing.
10. Birmingham, Alabama – Douglas Howard Cooner
Douglas Howard Cooner was arrested based on charges he took money from immigrants he promised to represent, although he is not allowed to practice law in Alabama or handle immigration cases. He has been disbarred since 2013.
According to the indictment, Cooner received payments totaling $27,410 from 14 immigrants who thought they were paying for legitimate attorney services.
An Ugly Truth About Immigration Fraud
To be honest, to win the battle against immigration fraud, immigrants need the help of immigrants.
Some victims, of course, are totally clueless about the wrongdoing happening with their cases. These individuals and families are innocent.
New measures must be put in place to give them a chance to prove their innocence – and a second chance to seek legal residency on the merits.
There are other victims who know what is going on, but feel assured that the actions being taken are not violations of law. This group, too, needs improved assistance from both the legal and immigrant rights communities.
A third group of immigrants, however, is not innocent. As several of the news stories above demonstrate, these folks are not ignorant of the fraudulent schemes being used to gain immigration benefits. Rather, they are willing participants.
They must be called out.
Having practiced family unity green card law for over 20 years, I’ve learned the impact of such wrongful actions hurts all immigrants seeking legalization. Such activities gives opponents of immigration reform openings to attack all undocumented immigrants as conniving law breakers and criminals.
If we are to win the war for compassionate reform, we must win the hearts and minds of those who sit on the reform fence.
Our task is made more difficult every time one of the above stories is reported, especially those where it is clear immigrants played a deliberate role.
In other words, winning the war for immigration reform means we must win the battle against immigration fraud.
By Carlos Batara, Immigration Law, Policy, And Politics