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Rep. Clarke Introduces Immigration Fraud Prevention Act of 2009

Rep. Yvette D. Clarke, Chairwoman of the Chairwoman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emerging Threats, Cybersecurity and Science and Technologyintroduced the “Immigration Fraud Prevention Act of 2009” (H. R. 1992).  The bill would make it a federal crime to exploit people, citizens and non-citizens alike who are preyed on when seeking immigration assistance and penalize those who engage in such schemes.

“Unfortunately, the need for federal action to prevent and prosecute immigration fraud has escalated in recent years as citizens and non-citizens attempt to navigate the immigration legal system,” said Rep. Clarke. “So far only states have sought to regulate the unauthorized practice of immigration law. Since immigration law is a federal matter, I believe the solution to such misrepresentation and fraud should be addressed by Congress.”

Clarke continued, “The Immigration Fraud Prevention Act would prevent and punish fraud and misrepresentation in the context of immigration proceedings. The Act would create a new federal crime to punish those who engage in ploys to defraud persons seeking legal counsel or assistance in connection with federal immigration laws.”
In a case recently reported in the New York Law Journal, hundreds of immigrants were exploited by Victor M. Espinal, who was arrested for allegedly posing as an immigration attorney in New York City. After the arrest, nearly 125 of Mr. Espinal’s clients attended a free clinic organized by the City Bar Justice Center and the New York City chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association to address their legal and immigration options.
According to prosecutors, Mr. Espinal allegedly carried business cards identifying him as an attorney with the “Immigrant Affairs Office” of the “N.Y. Legal Defense Unit,” licensed to practice in California and the Dominican Republic. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office began investigating Mr. Espinal after several of his clients alerted them through the Immigrant Affairs Program Hotline.
“From New York to California, there are hundreds of stories like this. Many immigrants are preyed on because of their fears – others on their hope of realizing the American dream,” Rep Clarke added. “They are charged exorbitant fees for the filing of frivolous paperwork that clog our immigration courts and keep families and businesses waiting in limbo for years.”
According to law enforcement officials many fraudulent “immigration specialists” close their businesses or move on to another part of the state or country before they can be held accountable. They can make $100,000 to $200,000 a year and the few who have been caught rarely serve more than a few months in jail.   Often victims of such crimes are deported, sending them back to their home countries without accountability for the perpetrator of the fraud.
“Organizations such as the National Immigration Forum, American Immigration Lawyers Association, and American Bar Association have been documenting this exploitation for many years now, today, I ask my colleagues to join me and Congressman Conyers in putting an end to this abuse,” Rep. Clarke concluded.
Specifically, the “Immigration Fraud Prevention Act of 2009” does the following:
  • Establishes a new section in the fraud offenses of the criminal code which would make it a federal crime to: willfully and knowingly defraud or obtain or receive money or anything else of value from any person by false or fraudulent pretences, representations, or promises.
  • Creates a new section in the fraud offenses of the criminal code which would make it a federal crime for anyone to willingly, knowingly, and falsely represent that he or she is an attorney or accredited representative (as defined currently in regulations) in any matter arising under federal immigration law.
    • Violations of these crimes would result in a fine, imprisonment of not more than 5 years, or both. 
  • Authorizes the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security to use task forces currently in existence to detect and investigate individuals who are in violation of the immigration fraud crimes as created by the bill.
The bill would also work to prevent immigration fraud by increasing awareness of “notario,” fraud to immigrants.  The bill would: 
·        Amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to provide warnings about “notario” fraud to immigrants in removal proceedings, parallel to the current law that requires notification of pro bono legal services to said immigrants. 
·        Require the Attorney General to provide outreach to the immigrant community on “notario” fraud and representation in immigration proceedings to prevent immigrants from being subjected to fraud. 
·        Provide that any materials used to carry out notification on notario fraud would be required to be done in the language appropriate for the specific immigrant community.
·        Require the distribution of the disciplinary list maintained by the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR) of individuals not authorized to appear before the immigration courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA).