One day after President Barack Obama announced that he would undertake executive actions that would offer amnesty to approximately 5 million undocumented immigrants, State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D-NY) issued a consumer alert, warning undocumented immigrants in New York about the possibility of falling prey to immigration service scams that promise assistance with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS .
“I welcome President’s Obama Executive Action, which will provide millions of undocumented immigrants the opportunity to come out of the shadows and stop living in fear,” said Attorney General Schneiderman, in a statement, in part, adding that, “Unfortunately, we know that following past changes in immigration policy, scammers have been quick to seize on moments of reform by taking advantage of desperate families seeking a pathway to citizenship. So my office is warning immigrant communities to do their homework and not to fall victim to unscrupulous individuals making promises they can’t keep.”
According to a press release, in which the consumer alert was announced, Attorney General Schneiderman made the following recommendations "to protect New Yorkers from becoming victims of fraud" :
- Confirm whether the President’s new immigration actions have gone into effect and been implemented before taking steps to submit an application to USCIS.
- Never pay a fee for an expedited application. Individuals cannot expedite your application for a fee.
- No one can guarantee you will get approved for specific benefits. If someone makes such a guarantee, don't employ his or her services.
- Only attorneys or Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA)-accredited representatives can give you advice on which forms to submit to apply for a new program.
- Only you, an attorney, or a BIA-accredited representative can represent you before USCIS and inquire about the status of your request.
- An immigration service provider that does not employ attorneys may not give you legal advice, threaten to report you to immigration authorities, promise to obtain special favors from immigration authorities, instruct you to provide false information to immigration authorities, or charge you for a referral to someone qualified to assist you with immigration matters.
- Although Notarios Publico are attorneys in Spanish-speaking countries, Notaries Public in the United States are not attorneys. Do not hire them for legal advice.
- Remember, before you sign any immigration form, you must understand it and agree to the truth of it. If a form is not written in your language, and you don't understand it, do not sign it. Anything you sign that is not true and accurate may be considered fraudulent by USCIS, and this will have serious repercussions.
- If you do go to an immigration service provider to have your paperwork filled out, the provider must do the following : give you a contract (which may be cancelled at any time) written in English and in a language you understand describing the services they will provide and the fees they will charge, post signs clearly indicating they are not attorneys and cannot give you legal advice, give you a copy of any documents filed with the government, return any original documents belonging to you, and give you a copy of your file on demand without a fee.
- It's always safest to pay for any service you obtain by money order, check, or credit card. Do not pay with cash. Note, too, that USCIS filing fees must be paid by those methods.
Progress Queens has archived an online copy of Attorney General Schneiderman's consumer alert to avoid immigration scams in its entirety.
It's a shame that the state's Attorney General's Office is unable to issue to its own self a consumer alert about lobbying scams.
For weeks, news reports and a prior editorial published Progress Queens have raised questions about how lobbyists have targeted Attorney General Schneiderman to possibly influence a reported investigation by his office of Herbalife Ltd., a controversial nutritional products company organised under the laws of the Cayman Islands but headquartered in Los Angeles, which is reportedly being probed over accusations that it defrauds its sales work force and operates under deceptive business practices, including, allegedly operating as a pyramid scheme. Herbalife is structured as a multi-level marketing company, and Latino leaders accuse Herbalife of exploiting its way through hundreds of thousands of Latino sales workers each year.
It's an equal shame that the state's Attorney General's Office is unable to better reach communities with similar warnings about the dangers of pyramid schemes.
In spite of reports that Herbalife is being investigated by several law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Trade Commission, and in the face of the fact that Attorney General Schneiderman's campaign committees have accepted contributions from lobbyists tied to Herbalife, including $50,000 that was accepted from an association partly funded by companies being investigated by states' attorneys general, amongst other conflicts of interests, including Herbalife's retention of the consulting firm that employs Attorney General Schneiderman's ex-wife, Jennifer Cunningham, his office has been reluctant to sound an alarm similar to the one he just announced about immigration service scams that, instead, warns communities about being intentionally targeted for exploitation by multi-level marketing companies. The state's Attorney General's Office Web site appeared to have been rendered offline this week-end, making a page about pyramid schemes a dead link.*
To combat the impression that Attorney General Schneiderman's investigation into Herbalife has been compromised by lobbyists and conflicts of interest, Progress Queens requested that the state's Attorney General's Office provide the public with an update about the Herbalife investigation, but the state's top law enforcement official continues to remains mum.
-- Progress Queens
* This editorial has been updated to reflect a correction.