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The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have unveiled a nationwide initiative and collaborative effort to combat immigration services scams. There are countless people and organizations that offer to help with immigration services, but many of them are not authorized to do so. Immigration scams include charging unnecessary fees, delaying petitions or applications, and can even lead to removal proceedings.

This new initiative targets immigration scams that occur when legal advice or representation about immigration matters is provided by an individual who is not an attorney or accredited representative. For example, unauthorized individuals may say that they are “notario publico” which means notary public, but this means something very different in the United States than what it means in Spanish. A notario public is a powerful attorney with special legal credentials in most Spanish-speaking countries, but “notary” means something very different in the United States.

Through sustained outreach, education and enforcement efforts, the U.S. government is hoping to combat this scam and other scams that are affecting many immigrants. The three pillars of the initiative – enforcement, education and continued collaboration – illustrate the commitment to attack the problem with aggressive civil and criminal enforcement. Not only will these agencies start educating immigrants about these scams, but they will also prosecute those who are responsible. In fact, the DOJ has worked with other agencies and local partners to secure convictions and recover over $1.8 million in recent years. The penalties for immigration scams can include up to eight years in prison.

One of the main reasons why these immigration scams are so effective is because they prey on unsuspecting immigrants who are trying to navigate through the complex immigration system. Now, the FTC has made it easier for immigrants and consumers to report these cams through a new online complaint database called Sentinel. Additionally, the initiative will educated and empower communities through brochures, posters, public service announcements for radio and print, billboard ads and a new Web resource center that includes a video. All of these tools will be available in English, Spanish and 12 additional languages offered online as well.

The DOJ is also training attorneys on how to handle these immigration fraud matters. As an experienced immigration lawyer, I have seen the impact that education and widespread media outreach can make in the lives of immigrants and I firmly believe in the importance of this initiative. My firm is specifically dedicated to helping immigrants who are looking to obtain visas, seeking citizenship or are dealing with other immigration issues. Los Angeles is a hotspot for immigrants and for these scams, and I am doing everything in my power to ensure that immigrants receive the reliable and honest help they are looking for.