Immigration fraud is a broad term that can cover all types of alleged fraudulent activity. It can involve intentional fraud on immigration documents to get into the United States, marrying someone solely for immigration reasons, or having someone else fraudulently represent themselves providing immigration services. Immigration fraud can be complicated because it often involves multiple individuals, communicating in different languages, and sometimes in different countries.
Immigration Services Fraud
In many cases, individuals may find themselves facing deportation or immigration fraud through no fault of their own. Many countries have a legal system very different from that in the United States. This becomes a problem in many immigrant communities when recent immigrants go to a notary to handle their immigration documents.
In many parts of Latin America, notaries, or “notarios” regularly handle routine legal filings. Individuals or groups offering immigration services may come recommended from friends or family. New immigrants may be more likely to use their services because they live in the same community, come from the same country, and speak the same language. However, in the end, some of these service providers are offering false hope and promises, while taking thousands of dollars in fees that provide no real service or relief.
The practice of law in the United States is generally limited to educated, qualified and licensed attorneys. This is intended to protect clients by holding attorneys to a high standard, and holding them accountable for any problems. A notary in the United States has very limited duties, and cannot practice law. However, many “notarios” in the immigrant community illegally represent themselves as able to represent individuals in the immigration process. In the end, innocent individuals end up getting scammed, and find themselves in deportation proceedings.
When an unqualified notario, or unlicensed attorney provides false documentation or misrepresents facts in filing immigration documents for another person, the immigrant may end up accused of immigration fraud. Without understanding that they were taken advantage of, or if they can no longer find the person who misrepresented them, they may face deportation proceedings for immigration fraud, through no fraud of their own.
If you or a loved one has been charged with immigration fraud, or is facing deportation through alleged fraud, do not rely on the services of the individual who misrepresented themselves in the first place, especially when they realized they may be facing criminal charges. Instead, seek the counsel of experienced federal immigration fraud attorneys who understand the consequences, and how to fight to make sure that your rights are protected.
Immigration Marriage Fraud
Marriage fraud is another commonly alleged source of immigration fraud. Marriage fraud generally involves getting a sham marriage for the purpose of getting lawful permanent residence (LPR) status for a non-citizen. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) takes marriage fraud very seriously, and any number of red flags may make them deny a fiance visa, or alien relative petition. If government officials suspect fraud, they may also charge any individuals involved with criminal violations.
A non-bona fide marriage may be entered into for any number of reasons, including paying for someone to agree to the marriage, asking a favor, or even if the foreign national tricks a U.S. citizen into believe the marriage will be legitimate. Immigration officials may require extensive documentation, as well as interviews or investigations, to determine whether they believe a marriage to be legitimate. The best rule of thumb here is not to grant any interviews, or make any statements, to a federal official, without first consulting an attorney.
Benefit or Identity Fraud
Identity fraud, document fraud and benefit fraud can all be related to immigration fraud, and are major targets for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers. Document fraud can involve the manufacturing, counterfeiting, alteration, sale or use of identifying documents. This can be done to engage in criminal activity such as identity theft, check fraud, insurance fraud, or credit card fraud.
Identity fraud or document fraud can also be utilized to evade immigration laws, such as using another person's social security number, and a fake identification card to get a job without the legal status for employment.
Immigration Fraud Penalties
Under 8 U.S.C. 1325(c), entering into a fraudulent marriage for the purpose of evading immigration law is considered a felony. Penalties can include up to 5 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, and deportation from the country.
Fraud or misuse of visas, permits or other documents required by immigration laws or regulations is a crime under 18 U.S.C. 1546. This includes forgery, counterfeiting, alteration, or falsely making any such documentation. The penalties for this type of immigration fraud may depend on the individual facts of the case. Such fraud committed to facilitate an act of international terrorism can result in 25 years in prison. If the offense involves a drug trafficking crime, the penalty can be up to 20 years in prison. In other cases, the criminal penalty may include up to 15 years in prison.
Immigration Fraud Investigations
ICE or USCIS may be involved in immigration fraud cases. In some cases, local law enforcement investigating benefits fraud, or local criminal activity may uncover a link to broader immigration fraud, and alert federal officials.
Often times individuals involved in immigration services or document fraud are providing similar services to many people. If that individual is caught up in an investigation by federal officials, they may lead law enforcement to anyone who was involved in procuring their services or false documentation. This may lead to innocent people being charged with immigration fraud, and have their family's lawful status put in jeopardy.
If you become aware of an immigration fraud investigation, you may want to consider talking to an immigration fraud defense attorney before you decide whether to go to the police. In some cases, law enforcement may try and use your information to incriminate yourself. It can be beneficial to have an advocate on your side to make sure your rights are represented.
Defenses to Charges of Immigration Fraud
There are a number of possible defenses to charges of immigration fraud. However, each case is different, and the specific defenses may depend on what happened in your case. Possible defenses include the lack of knowledge that any documents used or produced were fraudulent. In other cases, an individual may be relying on someone else who purports to be above board in providing their legal services. Only later does it become clear that they were defrauding the government or their own client.
Immigration Fraud Defense Lawyers
Your experienced federal criminal defense attorneys have a history of successfully defending their clients facing immigration fraud charges. They will be able to clarify the legal and factual issues at hand, and identify all of the elements required for the government to prosecute their case. With the possibility of removal, deportation, loss of legal status, and jail time of 25 years or more, it is important to have the right lawyers on your side, who have experience successfully defending their clients charged with immigration fraud.