Falling Prey to Immigration Fraud

I was heading to a spot where I could have some privacy for my scheduled call. 4 o’clock pm arrived and I dialed the number to reach the immigration attorney’s office, located in Pasadena, CA, I was advised to contact. After 4 minutes of being on-hold, Mr. M. picks up the phone on the other line and we would begin a conversation which had become too familiar.

Mr. M: “Tell me about your case”

Nancy: “My parents started a family case when I was underage. They hired a notary that worked with an attorney (let’s call her Attorney#1) to file our application for political asylum.”

Mr. M: “Hmm…and you are a national from Mexico, correct?”

Nancy: “Yes, my parents were told that by filing for political asylum, in the case that they did not qualify, they could submit a motion to apply for legal residency through cancellation of removal, as we met the qualifying criteria of having a minimum of 10 years of residence in the U.S. and were in good moral character”

Mr. M: “I hear of many individuals like your parents who are tricked into this legal proceeding. It’s fraudulent.  To qualify for cancellation of removal, aside from the residency and good moral character requirements, you have to establish extreme hardship that a removal from the U.S. would cause you or any qualifying U.S. citizen or legal resident relative. The burden of proof is very high on the applicant to demonstrate this hardship, and only granted in a very small percentage of cases.”

Credit: Texas Attorney Generalwww.oag.state.tx.us
Photo Credit: Texas Attorney General
http://www.oag.state.tx.us

And indeed, this is not the first time I hear this legal assessment. For starters, I had given up contacting immigration attorneys because it seemed I had already explored all legal options to remedy my situation. So far, I had found none.

For a moment, it felt I was wasting my time with this call, but I did not want to disappoint the mom of a close friend of mine who had visited me in Tijuana this past January. Mr. M had been their attorney and had been successful in adjusting their legal status. They emigrated from Chile on a visitor’s visa, were able to become permanent residents and later U.S. citizens. She also had friend that despite of facing voluntary departure, Mr. M was able to get her back into the U.S. with a permanent resident visa. She truly believed Mr. M could do help me return “home” after my deportation 3 years ago.

While I was living in Los Angeles, shortly after finishing high school, I had started taking initiative to understand my legal case instead of letting my parents continue with it. I was still undergoing political asylum proceedings. During my senior year in college (in 2003) I had regular contact with the notary and she would constantly reassure me all was going well. Any doubts I had were temporarily appeased when I finally received my first work permit. I would attend appointments with asylum officers and immigration hearings which all seemed to be going as planned.

Two years later, I started to have issues with my work permit renewal. Unsatisfied with the notary’s explanation that my case was in order, I began to contact several attorneys to get a second opinion. However, none of them were able to offer an alternate legal route; there was no immigration relief I qualified for. Most of them questioned that the legal process my parents had begun would effectively adjust my immigration status. The legal consensus I received was to wait for some type of immigration reform that could benefit my case.

Then in 2008, I met Attorney#2 at an immigration training seminar and decided to schedule a consultation. Unlike previous attorneys, he had taken more time to investigate my case. Attorney#2 contacted U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and found out that my case had been closed a few years back. That explained why my work permit was not renewed. I had confirmed my suspicions; the legal process the notary and Attorney#1 managed was fraudulent. Attorney#2 speculated I most likely had a warrant and ICE could at any moment be searching for me.

I realized that I had become part of the growing number of immigrants who fall prey to attorneys and those posing as immigration specialists known in the Latino community as “notarios.”  These notarios are neither licensed to practice law nor provide legal advice, as in the case of the notary my parents hired. She seemed “more” legitimate to them because she collaborated with an attorney we would see at immigration hearings where we were represented. She also claimed to have contacts within the immigration system to expedite our case. These immigration scam practitioners became more notorious in the 1980s, targeting immigrants seeking amnesty relief but it was not until recently that federal agencies began to pay attention to this growing problem. In 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice, along with the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Trade Commission started efforts to crackdown on such immigration scams.*

Attorney#2 was very frank and direct, and he said that my only options were to either relocate back to Mexico or immigrate to other countries like Canada which have more flexible immigration laws, especially for high-skilled migrants. But since I was not a “high priority” immigrant, meaning that I lacked a criminal record, it was unlikely ICE would target me. I could try to buy some time and wait until immigration law changed. If you have been followed this blog, you know how that ended.

“Yes, I know. I was not expecting you to tell me anything different than what other attorneys have already told me”, I replied to Mr. M during my call as we were beginning to wrap up the phone conversation.

Mr. M had previously reviewed the paperwork on the appeal I filed after my deportation. He concluded that although I had inappropriate legal counsel, I could not re-open my case because I would need to prove that an immigration judge would have ruled in my favor if I would have had proper representation. The truth is I did not meet the requirements for neither political asylum nor cancellation of removal. Bottom line, my parents should have never been advised to file for such immigration relief which would later result in our deportation proceedings.

Mr. M continued, “However, Attorney#1 who represented you in immigration court, I know who she is and has a reputation for filing these types of cases, and she is still doing it!”

I began to feel a sudden anger. I told Mr. M that after my deportation, I filed a complaint against Attorney#1 with the California State Bar Association, but it was denied because I did not have enough evidence to establish willful misconduct of Attorney#1. It just felt wrong that individuals like me would pay the consequences for inappropriate legal counsel while these legal scammers continue on with their unscrupulous practices untouched.

I could sense Mr. M. felt sympathy for my case. He mentioned that although he could not make a final assessment on my situation with the information he had, he would make a request to immigration for my entire legal files. He was also interested in taking a look at the State Bar response on the compliant I filed.

If I could do something to get off the streets one more of these individuals, then I least I would feel that something good can come out of my deportation.

However, I suspect more like Attorney#1 will continue with their fraudulent operatives. Any upcoming immigration law changes will be seen as an opportunity for these scammers to feed a lucrative business by targeting the most vulnerable. Education and awareness are the only tools we have available to help immigrants navigate through the complicated immigration system without falling prey to fraud.

* To read more on recent news on Notario and immigration fraud, the American Bar Association has created media reference list.

US-educated deportee doesn’t see herself as undocumented but “Citizen of the World”

Posted date: January 7, 2013 | LatinaLista

By Nancy Landa
MundoCitizen

(Editor’s note: Final post in a four-part series focusing on DREAMer Nancy Landa’s first-hand experience of removal proceedings by U.S. Citizens and Immigration Services (USCIS)

7.28.06 American Dream II ( Photo: M J M)

The holiday season arrived. I sang through Christmas carols as I finished dressing my apartment with the joyful holiday spirit that lingered in the air. It almost seemed like the old days when I lived in my home in Los Angeles, California. Although the holiday season succeeded in cheering me up this year, sadness and nostalgia seemed to creep up from time to time.

I couldn’t pretend to have forgotten what deportation has felt like in the recent years: Arriving alone in Tijuana the same day I was detained; having no more than 4 weeks of coping with resettlement before my parents and younger brother were also detained and deported.

Three holiday seasons have passed since a family of four was displaced without a place we could call home and with the challenges of re-starting our lives in a country so different from what we had gotten used to.

The first hurdle to overcome was the government bureaucracy.

It took close to six months before we could obtain all our required government-issued documents. This included the federal ID, called IFE, which is a requirement for almost every transaction, from signing an apartment lease to applying for work. Thankfully, our friends with family in Tijuana assisted us with the immediate necessities during this period of bureaucratic limbo as we worked towards self-sufficiency.

Finding work was the second challenge.

Despite having an established career in philanthropy and community development in the U.S., I quickly learned that my experience was irrelevant in a border region driven primarily by the manufacturing industry. Unless I knew someone that could help me get into similar position in the public sector, I was on my own. On the flip-side, being bilingual, although not completely fluent in my mother tongue, served as an advantage.

However, the best job I could get an offer for was answering phones for a call center – so much for my degree in Business and experience working abroad. The pay was minimal and could not be compared to what I earned in a U.S. job. Additionally, companies were unwilling to negotiate a comparable salary in Mexican pesos because I had no history of work experience here.

With little time to find a job adequate to my work experience, I decided to take it out of necessity. The funds we had available through friends, who had raised money to help our resettlement, were depleting. I was not in a position to be picky with work opportunities, especially as my parents being older had a harder time finding work.

Unlike the U.S., here in Mexico a company can deny you work because of your age. A worker can be considered too old for most labor-type positions at age 35.

Adaptability and flexibility became part of my survival mechanism. With some patience, I have been able to get back on track with a promising professional career, ironically, contributing to the growth of an American-based company with a global presence.

I have joined a selective group of professionals who are filling a local need for culturally sensitive skilled workers who can be effective in working with foreigners and where communication, in an English-speaking environment, becomes an asset rather than a barrier.

I am now able to travel for work abroad (including Canada and Europe), something that was not possible for me in the U.S. as I was in the process of adjusting my legal status.

This is not to say that I have not been confronted with challenges working in an environment that has substandard labor laws, in comparison what I had become used to. Tijuana is a region where lower pay for high-skill labor is what attracts foreign companies in a globalized market.

I also find myself, in my native country, only viewed as a foreigner simply because I grew up outside of Mexico and because my Spanish is noticeably different from the locals. Everyday, I am reminded that I am a woman working in a male-dominated environment that lags behind gender equality and protection that shielded me when I was in the U.S.

Maybe if I had grown up in Mexico, I would have learned to cope with and accept these circumstances as they are; however, I am bound to live with an internal conflict of wanting the conditions of first-world democracies that are simply not available in a developing country which is still Mexico.

Quite often, I am asked if I would return to the U.S. if that became an option. I do not have a clear answer. What I do know is that I would not choose to return to the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant. I have lived in the shadows for too long to return to a life of indefinite legal uncertainty.

However, there is one thing I do wish for: that I could have the 10-year ban to re-enter the U.S. lifted so that I am able to obtain a visitor’s visa.

Lacking a criminal history, I feel this ban is a harsh punishment as it continues to limit my career opportunities, even here in Mexico. My company requires me to travel for business to our corporate office in the U.S. and I have been unable to do so. I plan to take this battle with the Department of Homeland Security next year when I apply for a visa and appeal my case.

Perhaps I’ll decide to stay in Mexico to contribute to an emerging market that is becoming increasingly important. If the opportunity arises, I could also relocate to a country that has flexible immigration policies and that values productive migrants.

Sometimes I wished that the U.S. could be one of them. However, I doubt any immigration reform, if passed, would incorporate reducing the penalty for non-criminal deportees like myself so that we are able to legally re-establish in a country we once called home.

Being a displaced migrant has forever changed my perspective of the world. I no longer view it in the confinement of borders. I now see my deportation as an opportunity to advocate for this marginalized group. My purpose now is to educate others, here and abroad, about the plight of immigrants.

What if everyone could view immigrants not through the laws that criminalize and marginalize them, but rather through our own humanity? Would this allow each of us to understand the factors and circumstances that drive migration and arrive at humane and meaningful solutions?

I believe right now is the opportunity to begin this inquiry, as we are beginning to see a shift in the conversation of immigration. The truth is, whether we label people as ‘illegal,’ ‘undocumented,’ ‘deported,’ etc., the one label that I would rather use and find more empowering is ‘Citizen of the World’.

Nancy Landa is a deported honors graduate and former student President of California State University, Northridge (CSUN). Nancy resides in Tijuana since her deportation in 2009 and has shared her story to highlight the need for comprehensive immigration reform in the U.S. You can follow Nancy on Facebook and Twitter @mundocitizen.