Young illegal immigrants should be wary of scam artists promising work permits as a result of the Obama administration's new immigration policy toward them.
That's the message from pro-immigrant activists worried that the policy, announced on June 15, by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, will open up the door to scammers looking to reel in vulnerable undocumented immigrants.
Under certain conditions, DHS will stop deporting illegal immigrants between the ages of 16 through 30, and give them the opportunity to apply for work permits, according to the plan.
Eligible immigrants will be required to reapply after two years, and the policy does not offer a pathway to citizenship or permanent legal status.
Still, the potential for con artists is enormous, according to attorneys and activists. The Pew Hispanic Research Center estimates that more than 1 million undocumented individuals nationwide may benefit from the administration's move.
"I'm sure there's going to be a lot of fraud and...a lot of entities that are going to be profiting from this," says Ezequiel Hernandez, a local immigration lawyer who has worked with pro-immigrant groups in Arizona.
When DHS announced the deferred-action policy, it noted that in 60 days immigration officials would create a clearer path for those eligible to apply for work permits. But until more news comes from DHS, no one knows exactly what's going to happen.
"If someone says they want a work permit, [an immigration lawyer] has to say there is no work permit [process] right now," Hernandez explains.
One recent advertisement spotted by activists in a Spanish-language publication announced that Phoenix's Arianno & Repucci law firm was offering a $250 discount so young immigrants could start the process of obtaining a work permit, though an application process is not yet in place.
Adam Miller, the firm's immigration lawyer, says there was a miscommunication in his office that resulted in the ad being published without his approval.
He explained that the law firm had been planning on running the ad to get potential clients, but not until August 15, when immigration officials should announce a process for applicants.
The ad was pulled immediately, Miller says, after activists brought it to his attention.
"We've had several people come through our office already, [but] we've not taken money from anyone," claims Miller. "Basically any immigration attorney who promises you anything [right now] is lying to you."
The most he has done is inform potential clients of what was announced and who can qualify, he claims.
Lydia Guzman, who runs the local pro-immigrant group Respeto/Respect, warned people about the firm's ad on her Facebook account with a picture of the ad.
"When I posted it, I told people heads up cause [the scamming] is already starting," she says.
But the Arizona State Bar has the law firm in good standing and Miller says he has talked to some activists about the ad and clarified that it was a mistake on his part.
Rick DeBruhl, spokesman for the State Bar of Arizona, said he hasn't heard of any complaints resulting from this new immigration policy. That doesn't mean it's not going to happen though, he stated.
In fact the state bar and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that will provide the work permits, are planning a press conference for Tuesday morning to announce a joint effort to fight immigration-related fraud.
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"We're going to have a victim of immigration fraud to talk about his experience, to help explain what the problem is," explained Marie Sebrechts, a spokeswoman for CIS.
Lawyers and activists are telling potential applicants that they should gather their school records together, dating as far back as possible, while they wait.
Also, immigrants are advised to be patient until CIS has a process in place. Which must be difficult to do, when the chance at some sort of normalization of status is so close to reality.