Friday, March 30, 2012

Mexican National Living in Connecticut Sentenced for Illegal Reentry

A Mexican national was sentenced Monday, March 26, to 42 months in federal prison for illegally reentering the United States after being deported, and for violating the conditions of his supervised release, stemming from a previous federal conviction in 2006 for illegally reentering the United States after deportation. The sentence is the result of an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO).

Adalberto Arteaga-Rodriguez, 35, of Mexico, was encountered by ERO officers May 30, 2009, after having been deported three times in 2001, 2002 and 2007. Arteaga-Rodriguez's deportations in 2001 and 2002 resulted from his 1998 conviction for first degree unlawful restraint and fourth degree sexual assault.

In 2005, after he illegally returned to the United States, Arteaga-Rodriguez was charged in the District of Connecticut with illegal reentry. Arteaga-Rodriguez pleaded guilty to the charge and was sentenced to 23 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. He was released from the Federal Bureau of Prisons in February 2007 and was deported to Mexico March 17, 2007.

On May 30, 2009, Arteaga-Rodriguez was arrested by the New Haven (Conn.) Police Department after he was found in a vehicle with a .22 caliber rifle on his lap. Arteaga-Rodriguez pleaded guilty to one count of criminal possession of a firearm and sentenced July 22, 2009, in New Haven Superior Court to five years of incarceration, suspended after two.

On April 29, 2010, Arteaga-Rodriguez pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of unlawful presence of a deported alien, and also admitted that he violated the conditions of his supervised release from his 2006 conviction for illegal reentry.

Today, Arteaga-Rodriguez was sentenced to 30 months in prison for the illegal reentry and a consecutive 12-month term in prison for violating his supervised release. Arteaga-Rodriguez has been detained since his May 2009 arrest.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Deborah R. Slater, District of Connecticut.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

USCIS Encourages Public to Comment on Form I-9 Revisions

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) published on March 27 a notice in the Federal Register inviting public comment on a revised Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification. Employers must complete Form I-9 for all newly-hired employees to verify their identity and authorization to work in the United States. The public is invited to comment on the revisions until May 29, 2012.

Key revisions to the form include:

*               Expanded Form I-9 instructions and a revised layout.

*               New, optional data fields to collect the employee’s email address and telephone number.

*               New data fields to collect the foreign passport number and country of issuance. Only aliens authorized to work in the U.S. who have also recorded their I-94 admission number on Form I-9 will need to provide the foreign passport number and country of issuance.

The public may comment on the revisions by visiting, which provides instructions on how to comment on the proposed revisions to Form I-9. The comment period runs for 60 days, beginning today and ending May 29, 2012.

The current version of Form I-9 is available on USCIS’s online I-9 resource center at I-9 Central includes information about employer and employee rights and responsibilities, step-by-step instructions for completing the form, and information on acceptable documents for establishing identity and employment authorization.

USCIS will post information regarding a new Form I-9 on I-9 Central once the form has been finalized. Until a new version is approved and posted, employers must continue to use the current version of the form.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

USCIS Announces H-1B Petitions to Be Accepted Starting April 2, 2012

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced March 27 that it will begin accepting H-1B petitions subject to the Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 cap on Monday April 2, 2012. Cases will be considered accepted on the date that USCIS takes possession of a properly filed petition with the correct fee. USCIS will not rely upon the date that the petition is postmarked.

The congressionally mandated numerical limitation on H-1B petitions for FY 2013 is 65,000. Additionally, the first 20,000 H-1B petitions filed on behalf of individuals who have earned a U.S. master’s degree or higher are exempt from the fiscal year cap.

USCIS will monitor the number of petitions received and will notify the public of the date on which USCIS received the necessary number of petitions to meet the H-1B cap. If the number of applications received exceeds the numerical cap, USCIS will randomly select the number of petitions required to reach the numerical limit from the pool of petitions received on the final receipt date. USCIS will reject cap-subject petitions that are not selected, as well as those received after the final receipt date.

Petitions for new H-1B employment are exempt from the annual cap if the beneficiaries will work at institutions of higher education or related or affiliated nonprofit entities, nonprofit research organizations or governmental research organizations. Petitions filed on behalf of beneficiaries who will work only in Guam or the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands are exempt from the cap until December 31, 2014. Employers may continue to file petitions for these cap-exempt H-1B categories seeking work dates starting in FY 2012.

Petitions filed on behalf of current H-1B workers who have been counted previously against the cap also do not count towards the congressionally mandated H-1B cap. Accordingly, USCIS will continue to process FY 2012 petitions filed to:

*               extend the amount of time a current H-1B worker may remain in the United States;

*               change the terms of employment for current H-1B workers;

*               allow current H-1B workers to change employers; or

*               allow current H-1B workers to work concurrently in a second H-1B position.

H-1B petitioners should follow all statutory and regulatory requirements as they prepare petitions to avoid delays in processing and requests for evidence. USCIS has developed detailed information, including a processing worksheet, to assist in the completion and submission of FY 2013 H-1B petitions.

U.S. businesses use the H-1B program to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise in specialized fields, such as scientists, engineers, or computer programmers.

For more information on the H-1B nonimmigrant visa program and current Form I-129 processing times, visit

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Massachusetts Human Traffickers Arrested

Four individuals, including a husband and wife, have been arrested and charged in connection with allegedly running a sophisticated human trafficking operation in and around the Boston area. These arrests are the first under a new human trafficking law in Massachusetts, which went into effect Feb. 19, 2012.

The four individuals were arrested the morning of Friday, March 23, without incident by special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and Massachusetts State Police assigned to the Massachusetts attorney general's office. They have been charged with one count each of "trafficking in persons for sexual servitude." Those arrested today include: Rafael Henriquez, 39, and his wife Ramona Carpio Hernandez, 50, both of East Boston; and Milton Lopez-Martinez, 26, and Diego Suarez, 34.

These arrests are the result of a joint, months-long operation conducted by the attorney general's office, HSI and the Massachusetts State Police, working in close cooperation with the Boston Police Department, Lynn (Mass.) Police Department and Chelsea (Mass.) Police.

"We allege that these individuals ran an extensive human trafficking operation by transporting women into Boston and profiting from their sexual services, with some women being sold as many as 15 times in one day," said Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley. "Our enforcement effort today is only the first step toward targeting human traffickers who transport, harbor and exploit others for their own profit. We would like to thank the great cooperation with HSI and our local police partners for making this investigation and outcome possible today."

"Today's arrests are the result of the great partnership HSI has with the Massachusetts Attorney General's office and Massachusetts State Police in our unyielding resolve to bring human traffickers to justice," said Bruce M. Foucart, special agent in charge of HSI Boston. "Sordid tales of human trafficking come to light every day. But because human trafficking is so widespread, no one entity can adequately address the problems it presents. Law enforcement throughout Massachusetts is committed to giving victims the help they need to come forward and help us end human trafficking."

Investigators allege that Henriquez and Hernandez were the leaders of this organization, running a sophisticated human trafficking operation that transported numerous women into the area, housing them in deplorable conditions for a week at a time. Investigators also believe these women were brought to Massachusetts for the sole purpose of engaging in the sex trade and that these defendants recruited the women, and enticed them to engage in sexual acts with "johns," sometimes up to 15 times a day. The investigation also determined that Lopez-Martinez and Suarez allegedly handled the daily operations of the organization, including supervising the two primary locations in East Boston and Chelsea as well as transporting women to house calls of other "johns."

Henriquez, Hernandez, and Lopez-Martinez are expected to be arraigned March 26 in East Boston District Court. Suarez is expected to be arraigned Monday morning in Chelsea District Court. These defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Massachusetts Attorney General Dean Mazzone, Chief of Attorney General Coakley's Enterprise and Major Crimes Division; and Assistant Massachusetts Attorney General Marina Moriarty, also from the Coakley's Enterprise and Major Crimes Division.

The ongoing investigation is being handled by HSI, Massachusetts State Police and the Boston Police Department.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Maryland Man Sentenced for Immigration and Identity Document Fraud

A Maryland document trafficker was sentenced to more than eight years in prison for manufacturing, selling and transferring fraudulent identification documents, including permanent resident cards, and Social Security cards following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Social Security Administration (SSA) Office of Inspector General, the U.S. State Department Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) and the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA).

Victor Lopez-Escamilla aka "Mango Chupado," and "Ventura," 39, of Brooklyn, Md., was sentenced Wednesday, March 21, by U.S. District Judge William D. Quarles Jr. to 97 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release for count one of the charges on fraud and related activity in connection with identification documents, 60 months for count two Social Security card fraud and 97 months for count three, fraud and misuse of immigration documents. All were ordered to be served concurrently. Lopez-Escamilla is a Mexican national residing in the U.S. illegally.

At the sentencing hearing, Judge Quarles found that Lopez-Escamilla was responsible for more than $140,000 in fraudulent documents and more than 250 victims whose Social Security numbers and immigration numbers were used on the counterfeit identity documents. In addition, Judge Quarles found that Lopez-Escamilla had obstructed justice by exposing the identities of witnesses.

"To gain immigration benefits and lawful status in the United States is not something to be sold or bought," said William Winter, special agent in charge of HSI Baltimore. "HSI's Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force will continue to go after these individuals that are jeopardizing our national security and investigate those that are seeking to obtain legal status fraudulently."

According to court documents and testimony at his three-day trial, from July 2009 to the spring or summer of 2010, Lopez-Escamilla sold fraudulent documents made by a group in the 200 block of South Broadway in Baltimore. Witnesses testified that Lopez-Escamilla solicited individuals in the Baltimore area to buy fake identification documents and Lopez-Escamilla was observed and photographed receiving and distributing fake identification documents. The evidence further reflected that in the spring or summer of 2010, Lopez-Escamilla began manufacturing documents himself in a "document mill" in his bedroom. Lopez-Escamilla received photographs and personal information from the individuals ordering the documents, which he then used to manufacture the fraudulent documents. Lopez-Escamilla generally charged between $100 and $150 for a permanent resident and Social Security card, and at least $100 for a fraudulent Maryland driver's license.

HSI special agents executed a search warrant May 26, 2011 at Lopez-Escamilla's residence and seized counterfeit documents, used ribbons showing documents that had been created, and equipment and supplies used to make counterfeit documents. More than 100 exhibits were presented at trial, including a Cheetos can with a fake bottom that contained numerous fraudulent identification documents.

On May 29, nine defendants are scheduled for trial in a related case involving the alleged trafficking in fraudulent identification documents on Broadway in Baltimore.

The investigation was conducted by HSI Baltimore, SSA Office of Inspector General, the U.S. State Department DSS Washington Field Office, MVA Investigation and Security Services Division and the Baltimore County and Anne Arundel County police departments.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Tamera L. Fine.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Owner of David Firm Immigration Lawyer is Extradited for Immigration Fraud

Head of New York law firm charged with immigration fraud

NEW YORK — The proprietor of a law firm and 11 other individuals were charged Tuesday with operating a massive immigration fraud mill through a Manhattan-based law practice. The defendants and coconspirators allegedly applied for legal status for tens of thousands of illegal aliens based on phony claims that U.S. employers had "sponsored" those aliens for employment in the United States. A total of 27 individuals have been charged as part of the investigation led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Department of Labor's Office of Inspector General (DOL-OIG).
Those charged include: Earl Seth David, also known as "Rabbi Avraham David," who was the principal of the law offices and the scheme's ringleader, and who was arrested Tuesday in Canada after fleeing the United States; employees of David's law offices who created fake documents to support the fraudulent immigration applications; numerous phony "sponsors" – individuals who, in exchange for payments from David and his employees, agreed to falsely represent that they were sponsoring aliens for employment; corrupt accountants who created fake tax returns for fictitious sponsor companies; and a corrupt Department of Labor employee who assisted in the scheme.
"This law firm and its associates allegedly exploited the immigration system and carried out one of the largest immigration fraud schemes to have ever been committed in our country," said James T. Hayes, Jr., special agent in charge of ICE HSI in New York. "These arrests reflect HSI's commitment to investigating document and benefit fraud and those who try to circumvent our nation's immigration laws."
"As alleged, Earl David and his many cohorts corrupted the immigration process through a carefully orchestrated scheme that was stunning in its scope and audacity," said Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. "They allegedly reaped millions of dollars for filing tens of thousands of fraudulent applications for lawful immigration status on behalf of their alien clients. We will not tolerate this flagrant abuse of a program that is designed to assist U.S. employers in their efforts to obtain legal status for truly qualified employees."
"Today's indictment charges 12 individuals in an immigration fraud scheme in which thousands of fraudulent petitions, applications, and supporting documentation were allegedly filed with the U.S.
Departments of Labor and Homeland Security," said Robert Panella, special agent in charge of the Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General in New York. "The Office of Inspector General will continue to work closely with our law enforcement partners at the Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force to investigate those who would defraud Department of Labor programs."
According to court documents, from 1996 until early 2009, Earl Seth David operated a Manhattan-based immigration law firm (the "David Firm") that took in millions of dollars through a long-running scheme to charge exorbitant fees to the firm's alien-clients. In return, the firm procured legal immigration status for the clients based upon phony claims that U.S. employers had "sponsored" the aliens for employment.
United States law permits an alien to petition for legal status if the alien has obtained certification from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) that a U.S. employer wishes to employ, or "sponsor," the alien. An alien who obtains that DOL certification can then use it to petition U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to obtain legal status in the United States. As alleged in the indictment, in return for fees of up to $30,000 per alien-client, the David Firm applied for and obtained thousands of DOL certifications based upon phony employment sponsorships and fabricated documents, including fake pay stubs, fake tax returns, and fake "experience letters," purporting to show that the sponsorships were real and that the aliens possessed special employment skill sets justifying labor-based certification by DOL. In reality, the sponsors had no intention of hiring the aliens, and the sponsor companies often did not exist other than as shell companies for use in the fraudulent scheme. As a result of the fraud, DOL issued thousands of certifications, and immigration authorities granted legal status to thousands of the David Firm's clients when such adjustments were unwarranted and otherwise would not have been made. To date, the government has identified at least 25,000 immigration applications submitted by the David Firm – the vast majority of which have been determined to contain false, fraudulent, and fictitious information.
In furtherance of the alleged scheme, David and his employees recruited many people to participate, including dozens of individuals who, in exchange for payment, agreed to falsely represent to DOL that they were sponsoring aliens for employment; corrupt accountants who created fake tax returns for the fictitious sponsor companies; and a corrupt DOL employee who helped ensure that DOL certifications were granted based upon the fraudulent applications.
David allegedly continued to operate the scheme from behind-the scenes even after he was suspended from practicing law in New York in March 2004. David fled to Canada in 2006 after learning that his firm was under federal criminal investigation. Nevertheless, illicit profits from the scheme continued to be funneled to him in Canada, including through a bank account in the name of a biblical treatise he had authored titled "Code of the Heart." The David Firm ceased operations in early 2009 when federal search warrants were executed at several locations associated with the firm.
The indictment unsealed Tuesday charged each of the 12 defendants with conspiracy to commit immigration fraud through the making of false statements, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison; immigration fraud, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison; and conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. David alone is additionally charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
David, who allegedly fled to Canada after learning that the David Firm was under federal criminal investigation, was arrested Tuesday morning in Ontario, Canada, by the Toronto Fugitive Squad of the Toronto Police Service and is expected to face extradition proceedings.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

New Grant Opportunity Introduced by USCIS

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced Tuesday, March 20, the availability of a competitive grant opportunity designed to promote immigrant civic integration and prepare permanent residents for citizenship. This year’s program will offer approximately $5 million in funding for citizenship preparation programs in communities across the country.

Through this grant opportunity, USCIS seeks to expand the availability of high-quality citizenship preparation services. Organizations selected to receive funding will offer both citizenship instruction and naturalization application services to permanent residents. USCIS expects to announce an estimated 31 award recipients in September 2012.

Since the creation of the Citizenship and Integration Grant Program in fiscal year (FY) 2009, USCIS has awarded a total of $18.3 million through 111 grants to immigrant-serving organizations, which have provided citizenship preparation services to more than 28,000 permanent residents in 30 states and the District of Columbia.

To apply for this funding opportunity, visit Applications are due by May 7, 2012. USCIS encourages applicants to visit in advance of this deadline in order to obtain registration information needed to complete the application process.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Avoiding Immigration Law Scams: Finding Legitimate Legal Assistance for Immigration Issues

Need help with your USCIS forms?

You can file USCIS forms yourself, but many people choose to have help. You may need help writing in the answers to questions on USCIS forms or translating documents into English.  You can get this type of limited help from anyone. This person should only charge you a small fee and not claim to have special knowledge of immigration law and procedure.

Not sure what immigration benefit to apply for or which USCIS forms you need to file? Then you may need immigration legal advice.

Only attorneys or accredited representatives can:

  • Give you legal advice about which forms to submit
  • Explain immigration options you may have
  • Communicate with USCIS about your case

An attorney or a BIA-accredited representative can legally represent you before USCIS. Your legal representative must file a Form G-28, Notice of Entry of Appearance as Attorney or Accredited Representative, with your application(s).  USCIS will send information on your application to your legal representative.

WARNING: “Notarios,” notary publics, immigration consultants and businesses cannot give you immigration legal advice. In many other countries, the word “notario” means that the individual is an attorney, but that is not true in the United States. If you need help with immigration issues, be very careful before paying money to anyone who is neither an attorney nor a BIA-accredited representative of a recognized organization.

How can I find a licensed attorney?

The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) provides a listing of attorneys in your state who provide immigration services either for free or for little cost. The American Bar Association also provides information on finding legal services in your state.

When choosing an attorney you should:

  • Make sure that the attorney is eligible to practice in—and is a member in good standing of the bar of the highest court of — any U.S. state, possession, territory or commonwealth, or the District of Columbia.
  • Make sure that the attorney is not under any court order restricting his or her practice of law.
  • Ask to see the attorney’s current licensing document, and verify through the state bar association that he or she is a licensed attorney. 
  • Check the "List of Currently Disciplined Practitioners." This is where the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) lists people who have been expelled or suspended from practicing law before USCIS. Attorneys who are on the list and who have a “No” in the last column on the right may not be eligible to give you legal advice. Ask to see a copy of the reinstatement order from the BIA.

What if I live outside of the United States?

An attorney admitted and licensed to practice law outside the United States can represent you if your application or petition is filed in a USCIS office outside the U.S. This attorney must be:

  • Admitted and licensed to practice law in the country in which he or she resides
  • In good standing in a court of general jurisdiction of the country in which he or she resides
  • Currently practicing law as a profession

Additionally, this attorney must file a G-28I, Notice of Entry of Appearance as Attorney in Matters Outside the Geographical Confines of the United States.  Please note, this attorney can only represent you if your case is being processed outside of the U.S.  If your case is transferred to a domestic USCIS office, USCIS will communicate with you directly.

Can a person who is not an attorney represent me?

Yes. You have the option of seeking help from a:

  • BIA-recognized organization
  • Law student or law graduate being supervised by an eligible attorney or a BIA-accredited representative

Accredited Representatives

A BIA-accredited representative working for a BIA-approved organization is eligible to represent you before USCIS and EOIR.  BIA accredited representatives are not attorneys, but they may give you immigration legal advice. An accredited representative must work for a BIA-approved non-profit, religious, charitable, social service or similar organization in the United States. Her or she may only charge nominal (small) fees, if any, for legal services.

If you choose to work with a BIA-accredited representative from a BIA-recognized organization, you should:

  • Check the BIA website for the "List of Accredited Representatives and Recognized Organizations."
  • Ask to see the BIA order granting the application of the recognized organization.
  • Ask to see the BIA order approving the individual as an accredited representative. Approval is granted for three years.  Make sure that the BIA order is still valid and that the individual is approved to represent you before USCIS. The accredited representative should not have any problem giving you this information.
  • Check the "List of Currently Disciplined Practitioners." Accredited representatives who are on this list, and who have  a “No” in the last column on the right, may not be eligible to give you legal advice.  You should ask the accredited representative if he or she has been reinstated to practice and ask to see a copy of the reinstatement order from the BIA.

Law students and law graduates

A law student participating in a legal aid program, law school clinic or nonprofit organization may represent you before USCIS if he or she is being supervised by a licensed attorney or BIA-accredited representative. The supervising attorney or accredited representative of the legal aid program, law school clinic or nonprofit organization must complete Form G-28 as your representative. See Title 8 of the Code of Federal Regulations (8 CFR), Part 292.

A law graduate not yet admitted to the bar but working for an attorney or a BIA-accredited representative may represent you before USCIS. The supervising attorney or a BIA-accredited representative must complete Form G-28 as your representative.

Future versions of Form G-28 will have spaces for the name of the law student or law graduate and his or her signature on the same Form G-28 submitted by the supervising attorney or BIA-accredited representative. The law student or law graduate must have permission of the USCIS official before whom they seek to appear. The USCIS official may require that the supervising attorney or BIA-accredited representative accompany the law student or law graduate. The law student or law graduate may sign the application or petition as the "preparer."

Friends or relatives at your interview for support

You may bring a relative, neighbor, clergyman, business associate or personal friend to your interview or other appearances in person in a USCIS office.  This person is a "reputable individual" in the regulations at 8 CFR 292.1(a)(3). Reputable individuals may not file Form G-28. Instead, they must submit a statement to the USCIS/DHS official which states:

  • You personally requested they attend your interview
  • You have not paid them a fee to help you
  • The person's relation to you (relative, neighbor, clergyman, business associate or personal friend)  

Please note that the DHS official may decide not permit a reputable individual to appear at your interview.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Avoiding Immigration Law Scams: Proper Form Filing

Form Filing Tips

It's important for you to understand how the USCIS application process works. Knowing the facts will help you avoid scams.

Top 10 Tips Before You File

  1. The official website for USCIS is
  2. USCIS does not charge you a fee to download forms.
  3. Read the form instructions before completing the form. Remember to fill in all required fields and send in any required documentation.
  4. You must sign your form before sending it to USCIS. 
  5. Before you sign an immigration form make sure that you understand it and that the information on it is true and accurate.
  6. Never sign blank forms.
  7. USCIS requires you to pay a filing fee for most forms.
  8. You can pay filing fees with a money order, certified check or valid credit card.
  9. Make sure you get a receipt for any payment you make to an attorney or accredited representative.
  10. Keep copies of all forms and other documents that you file with USCIS.

Top 3 Tips After You File

  1. USCIS will mail you a receipt after we receive your application. Make sure to keep the receipt for your records.
  2. Use the receipt number on your receipt to track the status of your application online.
  3. If you have questions about your application, you can make a free Infopass appointment to visit a USCIS office and speak with an immigration officer.

Tips for Working with an Attorney or Accredited Representative

  • If you're working with an attorney, check with the state bar association to verify that the attorney is eligible to practice in—and is a member in good standing of the bar of the highest court of—any U.S. state, possession, territory or commonwealth, or the District of Columbia.
  • If working with a non-attorney, verify whether the individual is an accredited representative of an organization recognized by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA).
  • Know the law in your state. Some states have specific laws regulating immigration consultants.
  • If you are unsure whether your immigration service provider is giving trustworthy advice, do not hesitate to seek a second opinion. When doing so, always work with a licensed attorney or BIA-accredited representative.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Avoiding Immigration Law Scams: Common Scams

If you need legal advice on immigration matters, make sure that the person you rely on is authorized to give you legal advice. Only an attorney or an accredited representative working for a Board of Immigration Appeals-recognized organization can give you legal advice. 

The Internet, newspapers, radio, community bulletin boards and storefronts are filled with advertisements offering immigration help. Not all of this information is from attorneys and accredited representatives. There is a lot of information that comes from organizations and individuals who are not authorized to give you legal advice, such as “notarios” and other unauthorized representatives. The wrong help can hurt. Here is some important information that can help you avoid common immigration scams.

Notario Publico

In many Latin American countries, the term “notario publico” (for “notary public”) stands for something very different than what it means in the United States. In many Spanish-speaking nations, “notarios” are powerful attorneys with special legal credentials. In the U.S., however, notary publics are people appointed by state governments to witness the signing of important documents and administer oaths. "Notarios publico,” are not authorized to provide you with any legal services related to immigration.

Local Businesses

Some businesses in your community “guarantee” they can get you benefits such as a:

  • Visa
  • Green Card
  • Employment Authorization Document

These businesses sometimes charge you a higher fee to file the application than USCIS charges. They claim they can do this faster than if you applied directly with USCIS. These claims are false. There are few exceptions to the normal USCIS processing times.  

Dot-com websites

Some websites offering step-by-step guidance on completing a USCIS application or petition will claim to be affiliated with USCIS. USCIS has its own official website with:

  • Free downloadable forms
  • Form Instructions
  • Information on filing fees and processing times

Do not pay for blank USCIS forms either in person or over the Internet.

Visa Lottery

Once a year, the Department of State (DOS) makes 50,000 diversity visas (DVs) available via random selection to persons meeting strict eligibility requirements and who come from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. During this time, it is common for immigration scammers to advertise in emails or websites that reference either the:

  • DV lottery
  • Visa lottery
  • Green Card lottery

These emails and websites often claim that they can make it easier to enter the annual Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, for a fee. Some even identify you as a DV lottery “winner.”

These emails and websites are fraudulent. The only way to apply for the DV lottery is through an official government application process. DOS does not send emails to applicants. Visit the Department of State website to verify if you are actually a winner in the DV lottery or for information on how to submit an application for a DV lottery visa.


To this day, some local businesses, websites and individuals make reference to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). This agency no longer exists!

INS was dismantled on March 1, 2003, and most of its functions were transferred from the Department of Justice to three new components within the newly formed Department of Homeland Security. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the component that grants immigration benefits. The other two components are U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

All official correspondence regarding your immigration case will come from USCIS.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Avoiding Immigration Law Scams: Introduction

Are you getting the right immigration help?

Many people offer help with immigration services. Unfortunately, not all are authorized to do so. While many of these unauthorized practitioners mean well, all too many of them are out to rip you off. This is against the law and may be considered an immigration service scam.

If you need help filing an application or petition with USCIS, be sure to seek assistance from the right place, and from people that are authorized to help. Going to the wrong place can:

*               Delay your application or petition

*               Cost you unnecessary fees

*               Possibly lead to removal proceedings

This site can help you avoid immigration service scams. Remember: Know the facts when it comes to immigration assistance, because the Wrong Help Can Hurt.

Tools to Help You Avoid Scammers

USCIS wants to combat immigration service scams by equipping applicants, legal service providers and community-based organizations with the knowledge and tools they need to detect and protect themselves from dishonest practices.

To accomplish this goal, USCIS launched the Unauthorized Practice of Immigration Law (UPIL) Initiative. As part of the effort, we've partnered with several government agencies to identify resources that can help you avoid immigration services scams.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

ICE Opens New Detention Center in Texas

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) announced on Tuesday, March 13, the opening of its first-ever designed-and-built civil detention center, as part of the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) overall detention reform program.

The Karnes County Civil Detention Center is a 608-bed civil immigration detention facility, designed to house adult male, low-risk, minimum security detainees. The detainees who will be housed at Karnes will first be carefully screened to ensure that they do not pose a threat to themselves or others, and are not a flight risk.

"This civil detention center represents a first in the entire history of immigration detention," said ICE Director John Morton. "Karnes and others like it are one part of an ICE detention reform program that is sensible, sustainable and attentive to the unique needs of the individuals in our custody."

The civil detention facility model allows for greater unescorted movement, enhanced recreational opportunities and contact visitation, while maintaining a safe and secure atmosphere for detainees and staff.

In December 2010, ICE entered into an intergovernmental service agreement with Karnes County. The GEO Group Inc. was responsible for developing the center, in addition to operating the center as it opens its doors. This contract represents a significant milestone in the agency's long-term effort to reform the immigration detention system, prioritizing the health and safety of detainees in our custody while increasing federal oversight and improving the conditions of confinement within the system.

ICE's detention reform efforts call for putting detention centers in strategic locations that maximize detainee access to local consulates and pro-bono legal services, reduce detainee transfers within the detention system and increase overall operational efficiencies, allowing for a reduction in detainees' average length of stay in ICE custody.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Mexican National Sentenced for Illegal Entry and Felony Charges

A citizen of Mexico who had illegally reentered the United States on multiple prior occasions was sentenced Friday, March 9, in federal court in Lynchburg on charges related to another illegal reentry.

The case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO).

Bernardo Israel Enciso-Mejia, 30, a native and citizen of Mexico living in Buena Vista, Va., was sentenced to 77 months in federal prison. He pleaded guilty in December 2011 to one count of illegal reentry into the United States by a previously deported alien. His most recent return followed a conviction for an aggravated felony.

Following his prison term, Enciso-Mejia will be removed to Mexico by ERO.

"This sentence should serve as a reminder that there are significant consequences for violating immigration law, especially for those with extensive criminal histories," said ERO Washington Field Office Director Enrique M. Lucero.

According to his guilty plea, Enciso-Mejia has previously been removed from the United States by ERO on four separate occasions, including once following an aggravated felony charge of aiding and abetting the possession of a firearm by an alien illegally in the United States.

He was most recently arrested in Buena Vista, Va. Aug. 16, 2011. At the time of his arrest, officers with ERO determined that Enciso-Mejia did not have the consent of the Attorney General of the United States or the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to reenter or to reapply for admission into the United States. ERO found no record of the defendant ever applying for permission to reenter the United States or other forms of relief since the time of his first removal in 2003.

"The Justice Department is committed to the strong, effective and humane enforcement of our immigration laws," said U.S. Attorney Timothy J. Heaphy, for the Western District of Virginia. "Mr. Enciso-Mejia has illegally reentered the United States on multiple occasions and for that he must be punished."

Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Wright prosecuted the case for the United States.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Tips for Law Enforcement to Identify and Interact with Victims of Human Trafficking

Victims of human trafficking are vulnerable human beings who have been subjected to severe physical and emotional coercion. Most have been “taught” to distrust law enforcement, so victims of human trafficking need to be reassured that once they come in contact with law enforcement officers, they will be protected and safe.

Following are some things law enforcement officers should consider when dealing with victims of trafficking. Being aware of these items will help promote a cooperative relationship, helping law enforcement to gain the assistance of victims in the investigation and prosecution of traffickers.

  • Human trafficking is a devastating human rights violation that takes place not only internationally, but also here in the United States. As a law enforcement officer, you play an important role in identifying and helping trafficking victims. While trafficking is largely a hidden social problem, trafficking victims are in plain sight if you know what to look for.

  • Trafficking is not just forced prostitution. Victims of human trafficking may also be in forced labor situations as domestic servants (nannies or maids); sweatshop workers; janitors; restaurant workers; migrant farm workers; fishery workers; hotel or tourist industry workers; and as beggars.

  • A person who is trafficked may look like many of the people you see daily, but asking the right questions and looking for small clues will help you identify those people who have been forced or coerced into a life of sexual exploitation or forced labor. Look for the following clues:
    • Evidence of being controlled
    • Evidence of an inability to move or leave job
    • Bruises or other signs of battering
    • Fear or depression
    • Non-English speaking
    • Recently brought to this country from Eastern Europe, Asia, Latin America, Canada, Africa or India
    • Lack of passport, immigration or identification documentation

  • There are four areas of general victim needs:
    • Immediate assistance (housing, food, medical, safety and security)
    • Mental health assistance (counseling)
    • Income assistance (cash)
    • Legal status (certification, immigration)

  • Take into consideration a victim’s cultural and social background as these traits will impact the way victims should be managed as witnesses, as well as the way the investigation of their cases are carried out. If possible, you should work with a culturally and linguistically competent interpreter when a victim demonstrates any of the above-mentioned characteristics. Ideally, this person could serve as a language interpreter and be able to interpret the cultural values and unique behaviors that are characteristic of the victim’s national and ethnic background.

  • Effective communication is essential in gaining trust of victims as well as defining their immediate needs. Effective witness management extends into the courtroom when the time comes to present testimony and evidence to a jury.

  • Screen interpreters to ensure they do not know the victim or the traffickers and do not otherwise have a conflict of interest.

  • A successful investigation and prosecution of a human trafficking case is victim-centered. This requires lending support to traumatized and confused victims before you can gain their confidence.

  • Once victims of human trafficking are rescued from the traffickers, they generally will be incapable of finding outside support due to the isolation they have suffered while in captivity. This especially impacts you as law enforcement officers because it can place you in the initial position of having to arrange for such support.

Victims of human trafficking in the U.S. who are non-citizens may be eligible to receive special visas and to receive benefits and services through the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) to the same extent as refugees. Victims who are U.S. citizens are already eligible to receive many of these benefits.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Immigration Consultant Scammer in California Gets Harsh Sentencing

The former owner of an immigration consulting business who defrauded more than 150 clients from multiple states has been sentenced to 81 months in federal prison following a probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Armando Garcia, 60, of Tijuana, Mexico, pleaded guilty in June 2011 to aggravated identity theft and related conspiracy charges for operating a fraudulent consulting business with offices in Pico Rivera and National City. At his sentencing hearing Monday, March 5, the judge ordered Garcia to return to court May 7 to determine the amount of restitution he owes his victims.

Garcia's co-defendant and business associate, Elizabeth Alcocer, 48, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, pleaded guilty to mail fraud, aggravated identity theft and related conspiracy charges in August 2010. Alcocer is scheduled to be sentenced March 19 before U.S. District Court Judge Michael M. Anello.

"As the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security, one of HSI's top enforcement priorities is targeting the criminals and criminal organizations that undermine the integrity of our nation's legal immigration system," said Mike Carney acting special agent in charge for HSI San Diego. "The fraud perpetuated by unscrupulous immigration consultants who exploit the system to enrich themselves hurts us all."

According to court documents, Garcia opened his consulting business, California Legal Services, in 2001 in Pico Rivera, hiring Alcocer to assist him. As part of a fraud scheme, they offered to get undocumented aliens legal immigration documents allowing them to live and work legally in the United States, for a fee.

Garcia and Alcocer did not disclose to their victims they submitted applications on their behalf with false information and fraudulent supporting documentation. The two prepared and filed various immigration applications based on fraudulent documents they created, including counterfeit marriage certificates, birth certificates and tax returns. In other cases, they provided counterfeit government letters to show the victims that their applications were filed and pending normal processing time.

Some of the victims received employment authorization documents from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services based on prima facie eligibility while their applications were being adjudicated by immigration officers. Meanwhile, Garcia and Alcocer continued to defraud the victims by demanding additional payments.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Tips for Health Care Practitioners to Identify Victims of Human Trafficking

Identifying and Interacting With Victims of Human Trafficking

As a health care practitioner, you may have treated victims of human trafficking without realizing their circumstances, and therefore, have lost a chance to help them escape a horrific situation. The following provides a brief overview of the trafficking problem, as well as tips for identifying and assisting trafficking victims:

  • Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery, widespread throughout the United States. While trafficking is largely a hidden social problem, many trafficking victims are in plain sight if you know what to look for. 
  • Trafficking is not just forced prostitution. Victims of human trafficking may also be in forced labor situations as domestic servants (nannies or maids); sweatshop workers; janitors; restaurant workers; migrant farm workers; fishery workers; hotel or tourist industry workers; and as beggars. 
  • As a frontline health provider, you can help victims of human trafficking since you may be the only outsider with the opportunity to speak with a victim. There are housing, health, immigration, food, income, employment and legal services available to victims, but first they must be found.

Victim Identification

  • A victim of trafficking may look like many of the people you help every day. You can help trafficking victims get the assistance they need by looking beneath the surface for the following clues:
    • Evidence of being controlled
    • Evidence of an inability to move or leave job
    • Bruises or other signs of battering
    • Fear or depression
    • Non-English speaking
    • Recently brought to this country from Eastern Europe, Asia, Latin America, Canada, Africa or India
    • Lack of passport, immigration or identification documentation
  • Traffickers use various techniques to keep victims enslaved. Some Traffickers keep their victims under lock and key. However, the more frequent practice is to use less obvious techniques including:
    • Debt bondage – financial obligations, honor-bound to satisfy debt
    • Isolation from the public – limiting contact with outsiders and making sure that any contact is monitored or superficial in nature
    • Isolation from family members and members of their ethnic and religious community
    • Confiscation of passports, visas and/or identification documents
    • Use or threat of violence toward victims and/or families of victims
    • The threat of shaming victims by exposing circumstances to family
    • Telling victims they will be imprisoned or deported for immigration violations if they contact authorities
    • Control of the victims’ money, e.g., holding their money for “safe-keeping”

The result of such techniques is to instill fear in victims. The victims’ isolation is further exacerbated because many do not speak English and are from countries where law enforcement is corrupt and feared.

Victim Interaction

  • Asking the right questions may help you determine if someone is a victim of human trafficking. It is important to talk to a potential victim in a safe and confidential environment. If the victim is accompanied by someone who seems controlling, you should try to separate the victim from that person. The accompanying person could be the trafficker or someone working for the trafficker. 
  • Ideally, you should also enlist the help of a staff member who speaks the patient’s language and understands the patient’s culture. As an alternative, you can enlist interpreter services such as those provided by the ATT Language Line. If your patient is a child, it is important to enlist the help of a social services specialist who is skilled in interviewing minor trafficking or abuse victims. 
  • Screen interpreters to ensure they do not know the victim or the traffickers and do not otherwise have a conflict of interest.

Victim Assistance

·         If you think you have come in contact with a victim of human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-800-373-7888. This hotline will help you determine if you have encountered victims of human trafficking, will identify local resources available in your community to help victims, and will help you coordinate with local social service organizations to help protect and serve victims so they can begin the process of restoring their lives.
  • If you think you have encountered a victim of human trafficking, it is important for you to collaborate among key service providers, including the Department of Health and Human Services, law enforcement and others at the local, state and Federal levels, to help the victim get the protection and services they need. Calling the Trafficking Information and Referral Hotline will provide important guidance to you on enlisting these support services.
  • Under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA), victims of human trafficking in the U.S. who are non-citizens may be eligible for a special visa and comprehensive benefits and services. Victims who are U.S. citizens are already eligible to receive many of these benefits.