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Federal, local agencies crack down on immigration scams

June 9, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Federal and local agencies are cracking down on scam artists who are ripping off immigrants with bogus services.

To be a citizen in the U.S. or just to have temporary legal status, people of all nations are willing to pay for help. And bogus attorneys know it.

"We are talking about scam artists that are victimizing this community. Quite frankly, they are 'scum artists' in my humble opinion," said U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte.

A campaign to shut down immigration service swindlers is under way called Unauthorized Practice of Immigration Law (UPIL). The slogan: "The wrong help can hurt: Beware of immigration scams."

For example, Samuel Klein, who worked in a mid-Wilshire office building where there are legitimate law firms, advertised in local Hebrew language newspapers targeting Israelis seeking visas.

"The evidence shows that he was in fact well-known in the Israeli community and referred to as a 'magician' for his ability to get people status. However, unbeknownst to many of those aliens, the petitions he was filing were not legitimate," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Keri Axel.

Carlos Silva was arrested this week, accused of filing false petitions to obtain visas for legitimate companies but he allegedly padded the numbers to get extra visas.

"He turned around and sold them to unwitting Mexican nationals who thought they were getting legitimate immigration status," said Claude Arnold, special agent with the Department of Homeland Security.

The campaign is a collaboration of the Department of Justice, Homeland Security and the Federal Trade Commission, partnering with local agencies and community groups who serve immigrants.

A pivotal problem is how to tell whether storefront legal agencies are legitimate or not. One sign touts amnesty, though no such program exists in the U.S.

Websites like one from the Department of Homeland Security aim to help. In addition, law enforcement agencies can sign on to a new database to see if a suspected local scam artist has been conducting shady business elsewhere.

"We're here to work with you to hold those scam artists accountable and to spread the word and educate our communities so that others don't become victims as well," said Birotte.


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