Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Crackdown on Fraudulent Immigration Lawyers

Julia Preston writes for the NY Times:

Immigration officials are teaming up with federal and state prosecutors, the Federal Trade Commission, lawyers’ groups and immigrant advocate organizations in a new nationwide effort to combat an epidemic of schemes by people posing as immigration lawyers.

The campaign, which will begin in Washington on Thursday, is an effort by the Obama administration to step up one form of assistance to immigrant communities, which have intensified their criticism of President Obama as they have faced a record pace of deportations in the last two years. . . .

The initiative is led by Citizenship and Immigration Services, the federal agency whose director, Alejandro N. Mayorkas, is a former federal prosecutor in California. In that position, Mr. Mayorkas said in an interview, he had brought a number of cases against people illegally practicing immigration law. He said it was “heartbreaking” to learn, when he came to the agency in Washington, that the problem had not abated.

Since January of last year, the immigration agency has tested the program in pilots in New York, Los Angeles, San Antonio and four other cities.

In New York, Wilmer Rivera Melendez, a Puerto Rican with a criminal record including a conviction for bigamy, coaxed as much $75,000 each from 14 immigrants from Guyana, claiming he was an immigration lawyer with two decades’ experience. Most of the immigrants were in deportation proceedings by the time the Manhattan District Attorney's office stopped him. Mr. Rivera was sentenced in January to two years in jail. . . .

Officials hope the campaign will ease the overload in the federal appeals courts, which hear appeals from immigration courts. Judge Harry Pregerson of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in California, said that court had seen a surge in immigration cases, with 37,990 cases in the last eight years.

“So many of these people were represented so poorly by incompetent or disbarred lawyers, or they were snared in the clutches of notarios,” Judge Pregerson said in an interview. “It’s a huge scam that has disrupted the lives of thousands of families.” Read more..

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