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California lawmakers try to stop legalization scams

August 19, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
The promise of legalization for a price is a scam targeting immigrants in the U.S. illegally and it is now getting the attention of California lawmakers.

Billboards near the California-Mexico border and other advertisements throughout the state are telling immigrants who are living in the United States illegally that for a fee, they supposedly can help secure a place in line for when immigration reform passes in Congress. The problem is there is no line; the federal government has not passed immigration reform yet.

"To pay an attorney or consultant fees right now for a hypothetical bill is not something we want people to do. In fact, it's unethical, we think, for people to be charging. So we want to prevent that," said Assm. Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego.

Sometimes, immigrants get confused with the word "notary" because in some countries that's essentially the same as lawyers and so-called immigration consultants take advantage of people who don't know the difference in America. Univision interviewed Maria Gutierrez who wrote endless checks in a similar scam, promising legalization.

"I had to pay him directly for eight or nine years almost $80,000," said Gutierrez.

Gonzalez has introduced a bill that would ban anyone from taking money promising legalization, before immigration reform is actually in place.

"We don't know if the bill will be passed, what it'll look like and who it'll apply to," said Gonzalez.

But the American Immigration Lawyers Association opposes the bill. While it wants to crack down on scams, the organization says the proposal is so harsh it might actually prevent immigration attorneys from taking any cases, even from people who need help navigating other avenues to legal status.

"This is mainly trying to make sure prohibitions in the bill don't inadvertently prohibit an immigration lawyer from actually providing the services that are needed," said Ignacio Hernandez from the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

The bill passed a Senate committee unanimously. It will also require that contracts for immigration services be in the client's language.


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