Immigration Fraud

WEBSummer Stephan Headshot.jpg

Who can you trust?

As your District Attorney, I’m committed to increasing communication and accessibility between the DA’s Office and you, the community. One way I hope to do that is through this new monthly column, where I’ll be providing information and tips on how you can stay safe. I’ll also keep you updated on current trends and topics in the criminal justice system.

Who can you trust?

As your District Attorney, I’m committed to increasing communication and accessibility between the DA’s Office and you, the community. One way I hope to do that is through this new monthly column, where I’ll be providing information and tips on how you can stay safe. I’ll also keep you updated on current trends and topics in the criminal justice system.

We are always looking for ways to warn the public against the variety of scams that target our community. One of these areas is immigration fraud. Living so close to the U.S.-Mexico border makes our community especially prone to scammers who cheat their way into cash by exploiting vulnerable people who are trying to gain legal status in the U.S.

Unfortunately, there are people posing as attorneys who are out there taking advantage of people. Here’s how it often works.

Immigration fraudsters claim to either:

Have special access to citizen and immigration service personnel

Have special knowledge about exclusive programs

Pretend to be an attorney or immigration consultant

Sophisticated criminals use their knowledge of the immigration system to file frivolous claims that generate genuine receipts issued by the federal government. The suspects then mischaracterize the receipts as “proof” the victim’s claim is being considered.

We prosecute a handful of these cases every year, but we believe the crime is absolutely under-reported because many undocumented immigrants are afraid to come forward. They fear being deported if they report that they’ve been scammed. Victims, regardless of documentation, are protected under the law.

So how do you know whom to trust? Here are some tips:

Only a licensed attorney can advise a person about his or her eligibility for citizenship or other matters relating to living in the country legally. 

To make sure you are really dealing with an attorney. Ask in which state the attorney is licensed and ask for his or her bar number, then check the bar number with the State Bar Association.

Real attorneys will not mind if you ask for their bar number.

Avoid people who call themselves “notarios,” “paralegals,” or former immigration agents. None of these titles gives a person the authority or ability to handle immigration matters for other people.

Avoid people who want you to pay cash. It is better to pay by credit card or check.

If a person says that he or she has a contact in USCIS or ICE who can process paperwork for you for a fee, know that this is illegal and probably not true.

If the person says that he or she can process your immigration papers but you have to bring at least 10 people to process at the same time, this is false. USCIS and ICE handle each immigration application separately.

There are no secret or special programs; immigration laws and benefits are well publicized.

Attorneys always have written retainer agreements.

If you suspect that you have been the victim of immigration fraud, email the DA’s Office at public.affairs@sdcda.org and ask for a complaint form.

District Attorney Summer Stephanhas dedicated more than 27 years to serving justice and victims of crime as prosecutor. She is a leader in creating smart and fair criminal justice solutions and restorative justice practices that treat the underlying causes of addiction and mental illness and that keep young people from being incarcerated. 

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