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Duckworth backs Foster bill to target immigrant exploitation

U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth ( D-Hoffman Estates) | Sun-Times Medifile

U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth ( D-Hoffman Estates) | Sun-Times Media file

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Updated: November 16, 2013 6:11AM

ELGIN — Susana Tinoco, an immigration counselor at Centro de Informacion in Elgin, had one client who had paid $1,500 two years ago to apply for legal residency in the United States, she said. The person who took his money then told him he had to wait for immigration reform to pass, Tinoco said.

That doesn’t make any sense, she said.

Marta Gómez, another immigration counselor and accredited representative of the U.S. Bureau of Immigrant Appeals, said she had a client who had filed his paperwork for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals through another agency without the required proof of the dates he had lived in the U.S. Now his ability to apply for citizenship, even to stay in the country, is jeopardized, Gómez said.

“I have heard some of those same stories,” U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Hoffman Estates) said.

That’s why Duckworth said she signed on as a cosponsor of the Protecting Immigrants from Legal Exploitation Act of 2013, introduced Aug. 1 by U.S. Rep. Bill Foster (D-Naperville).

“The issues we have with immigration and the challenges the immigrant community deals with are tough enough without having these folks out there who are preying on them — are preying on the fact a lot of the members of the community are scared. A lot of them are in the shadows, and others are not native English speakers, and they prey on that,” she said.

Law details

The act, currently in committee, would make providing fraudulent immigration services or falsely claiming to be an attorney or accredited representative punishable by 10 to 15 years in federal prison, it said. Anybody convicted also would have to reimburse clients what they paid for those fraudulent services, it said.

It also would require anybody submitting applications, petitions, motions or other written materials related to immigration law to identify who helped him or her prepare or translate those materials. Anybody who was paid to prepare, complete or submit the materials would have to sign the form as a preparer and provide identifying information, it said.

“That person may not be qualified to tell them that (they can help). They’ll take their money and harm them more than help them,” said Jaime Garcia, executive director of Centro.

Perhaps most controversially, Duckworth admitted, the act would allow anybody to withdraw his or her application or other materials for immigration status, or to reapply after being deported, if they can show those materials were prepared or submitted by somebody unauthorized to do so.

Otherwise, the representative said, “I think if it comes up for a vote, it has a great chance of passing because there’s such support for immigration reform, and this is about greater transparency, and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t support greater transparency,” she said.

Immigration reform is one of Duckworth’s top priorities, and she’s heard from both state and federal leaders about the issue of fraud against immigrants, she said. It also makes up the largest number of cases that come for help from constituents to her office, she said.

Get a lawyer

It’s probably about 10 percent of the cases Gómez works with at Centro, she said. Every Friday, when the nonprofit Hispanic social services agency accepts walk-ins, at least one person shares a story about being take advantage of by somebody fraudulently claiming he or she can help with immigration paperwork, she said.

Part of the confusion for many immigrants comes from the fact in Latin America, notaries are highly-qualified attorneys, she said. In the U.S., Garcia added, anybody can become a notary and “anybody can hang up a shingle for immigration services.”

The executive director cautioned anybody needing help with immigration paperwork to look for a lawyer, preferably an immigration lawyer, or a reputable association that is registered with the BIA, like Centro.

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