Victim Spotlight

When María Guiterrez heard she could legalize her immigration status, she jumped on it. She spent $80,000 over ten years, but all the money and effort was just a scam.

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Public Counsel Directing Attorney Gina Amato Lough (left) with her client María Guiterrez.

Veronica and her husband hired an LA-based immigration consultant twenty years ago to assist with her husband’s immigration case. Over the past twenty years, the couple was defrauded out of over $100,000. The couple hired the consultant in 2001, after hearing an advertisement on a local radio station. Upon meeting the consultant at his office, which they believed to be a law office because it had the term “Law Office” in the organization’s name, they hired the consultant, whom they were told was an immigration attorney.

Twenty years later, they discovered that the immigration consultant they had paid over $100,000 to was not a licensed attorney. The immigration consultant carried out the common scheme of applying for asylum for the husband, despite there being no eligibility for asylum. When this application was inevitably denied, the husband was placed into deportation proceedings. The consultant then applied for cancellation of removal for the husband, an immigration remedy with a complicated legal standard and which the husband did not meet the qualifications for. After this was denied, the consultant appealed this case, first to the Board of Immigration Appeals and then to the 9th circuit. This appeal went on for years. All the while, the consultant charged the couple for legal research, filing fees, time spent drafting motions and legal briefs, an extra charge to speak with the judge about the case, stamps, copying fees, etc.

This added up over the years, and before the couple knew it, they had spent $100,000 on an immigration case that had no legal basis for success. The consultant also “partnered” with licensed attorneys who would show up on the date of a court hearing, having never met with the husband to discuss his case and never signing a contract for legal services, to act as the husband’s legal representative in court. All the while, the consultant claimed to the couple to be overseeing the case, managing these attorneys, and far too busy to show up in court himself. What he did not disclose was that he was an immigration consultant, not a licensed attorney, and the court would not allow him to act as their legal representative. After 20 years and over $100,000 paid, the husband’s immigration case is still ongoing and he never gained any legal status. 

Ms. O paid over $6,500 for the false promise that a travel agency could help with her immigration case to petition her son, who lived abroad, for a visa to travel to the United States. Her son was given a fraudulent document and was never able to enter the United States. No services were performed for her or her son, and she never received her money back. The travel agent told her that the agent and her husband worked for ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). Ms. O was told that when people hired this travel agent, they were guaranteed a visa and were safe from deportation. The travel agent required that Ms. O pay $5,000 in cash to begin work, and then the travel agent gave her a long list of additional expenses that she was told were necessary for the visa process. She was told her son could get a visa within 3-4 months.

This was all a lie. The agent gave her son a fraudulent document, made to look like a work authorization permit, which the agent called a “work visa” and told the family that he would be able to enter the country with this document. For several years, the agent continued to lie to the family and demand more money to supposedly “fix” the problems with the visa and get the son permission to enter the country. After several years and thousands of dollars and years of confusion and disappointment for the entire family, Ms. O lost $6,5000 and was unable to reunite with her son.

Salvador Oliva, a naturalized citizen from El Salvador, has endured four years of an anti-immigrant administration, the disparate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic impact, and now faces yet another threat—immigration fraud. Just before Christmas of 2020, Salvador and his family, who were all sick with COVID-19, received a third bill for over $10,000 from an LA-based immigration consultant. Salvador hired the consultant after he falsely claimed to be a lawyer who could help Salvador’s wife with her immigration case.

The consultant, who is not an attorney, performed no work for the couple beyond filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request—a simple form that any member of the public can submit online. The consultant was now demanding $10,610 from Salvador and his family, threatening to bring a civil lawsuit and making veiled threats to the family that ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) could deport them at any time.

“I felt like death was upon me, and I could not sleep or enjoy Christmas,” said Salvador of the experience. Salvador, who has been out of work for several years due to a disability, under financial stress from the pandemic, and dealing with his family’s sickness from COVID-19, fell victim to the pervasive problem of notario, or immigration, fraud.

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