Supreme Court Deadlock On Immigration Puts Immigrants At Increased Risk For Fraud, Deportation

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Yesterday, a deadlocked U.S. Supreme Court stymied the White House’s hopes to enact large-scale immigration reforms that would have allowed millions of immigrants to remain in the country. While this lack of a decision doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the program, it will inevitably create confusion for those directly affected by the case, while fostering a breeding ground for fraudsters seeking to take advantage of immigrants uncertain of their status. 
The Supreme Court case involved challenges to President Obama’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programs.

DAPA was first announced via a Nov. 2014 executive order.  Upward of five million unauthorized immigrants who are parents of citizens or of lawful permanent residents would have been eligible to apply for deferred action, preventing them from being deported and providing them with work permits.

Thursday’s 4-4 tie leaves in place an earlier federal appeals court ruling blocking the extended program. However, it may eventually come back before a second round of SCOTUS consideration after the lower court case is finished.

“Though today’s decision is disappointing, we must remember that this is not the end of the road for these incredibly important programs,” Benjamin Johnson, director of American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), said in a statement. “The lower courts will continue to consider the case and ultimately, I would not be surprised if it ends up before the Supreme Court once again.”

Until then, consumer and immigration advocates worry that those affected by the case could fall victim to fraudsters looking to take advantage of their vulnerable situation.

One way to avoid falling victim to ne’er-do-wells, advocates say it’s important to first know the facts of the case.

Who’s Affected By The Decision

• Parents — Unauthorized parents of children who are United States citizens or legal permanent residents born on or before Nov. 20, 2014 would have been eligible for the program had they been in the U.S. since Jan.1, 2010.

• Children — Under the expanded DACA plan, unauthorized immigrants brought to the United States as children before January 2010 would have been covered. This would have expanded the current DACA program that allowed unauthorized immigrants born after June 15, 1981 who were brought to the U.S. before their 16th birthday and have been in the country since June 15, 2007 to apply for deportation deferrals and work permits.

Who/What Isn’t Affected

Young adults who had qualified for DACA, which was created in 2012, will not lose their eligibility for the program. These consumers can continue to apply or reapply for the program.

“It’s really important to stress to clients that those who are eligible under the 2012 program can continue to file,” Anne Schaufele, staff attorney for Ayuda’s Project END (Eradicating Notario Deceit), tells Consumerist.

The only thing that would have changed for these people was the length in which their work permits would have been valid, increasing from two year to three years.

Mike Jarecki, attorney and vice chair for the Media Advocacy Committee for AILA, tells Consumerist that those that who are currently covered by DACA should be encouraged to reapply with the qualified legal reps they used in the past or accredited reps.

“Don’t feel that the process has gotten more difficult,” he says. “It’s the same system, filing, and extension principles. That process has not changed and the decision does not make that harder or put their extension at risk.”

Schemes, Scams, and Being Taken Advantage Of

Advocates tell Consumerist that those who are, or could have been, covered under DAPA/DACA and the expanded programs should be vigilant when approached about the programs and other forms of immigration relief.

What Are ‘Notario’ Scams & How Do They Prey On Immigrant Communities?

“The true tragedy of yesterday is it highlights the void of the inaction of congress,” Jarecki said. “That void will be filled by someone: people seeking to prey on vulnerable communities; they have a space to operate.”

Jarecki tells Consumerist that immigrants need to be on the look out for people — such as notaries — who are promising thing that don’t exist.

As we’ve covered before, scammers within many Spanish-speaking immigrant communities take advantage of the confusion between  the Spanish term “notario público” – meaning a highly trained legal professional – and the English “notary public” – meaning a licensed official with witnessing duties. Fraudsters, some of whom aren’t even notary publics, will pose as notarios, charging money for legal services and immigration advice they aren’t qualified or allowed to provide.

For example, a notario who may be doing some kind of document preparation or tax services could tell an individual that they could handle immigration authorization.

“When we see people who are desperate when there is no path to go forward, that desperation and willingness to pay and get in line to have the hope of immigration benefits, that leads them to believe what people are telling them,” Jarecki says. “These are opportunistic people who prey on individuals, they can make a quick buck, leave the community, and move on.”

Immigrants who are looking for assistance in filing documents should always feel safe asking questions of their representatives, Jarecki says.

“If they are paying for a service, they are in the driver’s seat and can ask questions,” he says. “People should not be afraid to ask questions, ‘Are you notario?’ ‘Are you a licensed attorney?’ ‘Do you have experience in immigration law?’ It’s okay to ask direct questions to make sure these people are qualified and licensed to do the job they are hired to do.”

Additionally, Schaufele says it’s important that immigrants be properly screened for their options — what type of immigration program or assistance they may be eligible for — as some businesses or individuals will likely pop up offering certain protections that they aren’t actually eligible for, such as asylum.

As for immediate concerns following the SCOTUS deadlock, both Jarecki and Schaufele say that in some cases immigrants may have paid so-called retention fees to lawyers and non-lawyers who guaranteed representation before DACA/DAPA went forward following the President’s announcement in 2014.

Schaufele and Jarecki encourage consumers to recognize that those services can not be provided and that anyone who has already paid the fee should ask for their money back.

“If they can’t, or individuals aren’t willing to, provide a refund,” Jarecki says. “They should escalate that to the agencies in their state, advocacy groups, and the attorney general in their state.”

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a division of the Department of Homeland Security also warns immigrants to be wary of anyone who offers to provide them with faster services if they pay a fee.

“These people are trying to scam you and take your money,” the USCIS website states. “Make sure you seek information about DACA from official government sources such as USCIS or the Department of Homeland Security.”

Anyone who believe they have been the victim of an immigration scam, or know of one being perpetrated in their community, should contact their appropriate state offices and the Federal Trade Commission.

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