This Issue | Editorial | Feature | E-mail
Undocumented & Immigration Scams

Dr. Dolly Hassan

If you are undocumented, you are probably hoping that there is going to be a silver lining some time soon. The wait seems endless, however. And now it appears that nothing substantial will happen until after the elections.
Undocumented, in desperate situations, are especially vulnerable to the various scams, with even fellow immigrants preying on their own.

There are individuals who continually concoct schemes to defraud immigrants and enrich themselves. Be on alert. In case of doubts, check with an attorney, recommended by a family or friend. Below are some of the most popular scams in vogue:

(1) ID Cards: Since the horrific events of September 11, 2001, undocumented immigrants have felt very insecure about the fact that they cannot get a State-issued ID. The question is usually, "What do I do if I am stopped? I have no ID." A few private entities have surfaced with an elaborate scheme to issue cards, which simulate the state-issued ID. To protect themselves, these entities insert a short phrase that the card is not a state or government-issued ID. Nevertheless, the cards are glossy and glamorous and designed to give people a sense of security of having an "ID”. Some of them even carry an expiration date. Do not purchase these cards. They are not worth a penny. Your passports are more valuable. Your home Consulates will not inquire about your immigration status, so if you do not have a passport, get one.

(2) Work Authorization: Undocumented who have preference petitions pending are generally unable to secure work authorization until their priority dates are current. However, there are many unauthorized practitioners who assist the undocumented in filing for work authorization before they are legally entitled to do so. Some file just the work authorization application alone; others include the entire adjustment of status application with all fees, including the hefty penalty fee of $1,000. There are times when the Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) may notice the error and send a denial, but there are instances when a person may actually be issued the permit, only to have it subsequently revoked and be sent a threatening letter to leave the country. Do not allow anyone to talk you into filing for employment authorization prematurely.

(3) Visa Lottery: Now that the paper application for the visa lottery is no longer accepted, we are beginning to see more sophisticated schemes enticing the undocumented to try for the lottery. Those who promote the lottery neglect to advise applicants whether they could adjust their status in the US and what difficulties they may encounter should they have to do their interviews at the consulate. Newspaper advertisements have been appearing in home countries, so warn your relatives that if they do not have the requisite qualifications of a high school education or two years work experience in a profession requirement two years experience, they should not waste their money.

(4) Asylum for Backtrackers: Backtrackers are usually programmed to recite the same story if they are caught, that is, they are threatened by a certain racial group and will be killed if they are to be returned home. They are led to believe that if they swear to that magic story, they would be granted asylum in the US. However, they may pass the "credible fear" interview by saying anything, but they must know that they have to appear before an Immigration Judge who most likely will deny the political asylum application and leave the applicant no alternative but to return home. If one chooses to remain in the US despite the court order, the likelihood of securing lawful status is very slim, even if one marries a US citizen. Before applying for political asylum, ask questions.

(5) Tax ID's: Securing an IRS tax ID is a good idea. However, remember that you cannot use it as a social security number for payroll deduction purposes. You may use it to file a tax return. It is not a substitute for a social security number.

(6) Sidewalk Filers: If you think you need assistance with your immigration paperwork, consult the CIS or an attorney, not that "friend of a friend" who does "immigration". It is illegal to practice law without a license. But more important to you is the fact that immigration is very complex and you need sound advice and continuing guidance to ensure that you are on the right track. An attorney can accompany you when you are interviewed; an unauthorized practitioner cannot.

(7) Inside Contacts: If someone tells you that a "contact" within the Immigration Service can assist you, think again. Do not pay any money to get phony green stamps. The same applies for drivers' licenses. I am amazed how many people fall into the trap of going to the DMV with phony stamps in their passports hoping to secure a driver's license only to land in problems. Do not communicate with Immigration officers or Motor Vehicle employees outside of their work environment about your cases and about special favors and assistance.

(8) Business Marriages: Do not be tempted by offers of business marriages, either from strangers, friends or family. The penalties are stiff and should CIS zap you for marriage fraud, you will not be able to get your lawful status even if you subsequently enter a bona fide marriage. Those who make their livelihood conducting business marriages will promise to stick it out with you but will abandon you either before the documents are filed or prior to the interview.

(9) Social Security Cards: Do not permit anyone to "sell" you a social security card to get a driver's license. If you don't have a license, use public transportation and wait patiently.

I am aware that people in desperate situations do desperate things. Unfortunately, there are times when the best thing to do is nothing.

Dr. Dolly Hassan is supervising attorney at Liberty Center for Immigrants in Richmond Hill, NY 11419.
Telephone: 718-847-3757.