By Barbara Taylor and Lisa Parisio, Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project 

Right now, legal services for immigrants are scarce in Maine, and the state has many people needing those services. This has created an opportunity for dishonest people to trick immigrants out of their money by pretending they will help them with their immigration cases. These practices are illegal and can cause serious harm to your immigration case. The best way to protect yourself is by having information about what these people do and being careful about who you allow to help with your immigration case. 

The schemes 

Immigration laws and support services are complicated and hard to navigate. If you are an immigrant trying to do this navigating, you know this better than anyone. 

Please watch out for people who try to take advantage of newly arrived immigrants, including asylum seekers. These people know that new immigrants may not have information about the laws, may speak little English, and may have limited money and support when they arrive. They count on new arrivals being unable or afraid to report any fraud to the Maine government. They may seem to be people with authority and trust in the immigrant community, possibly even a religious leader. They may try to give you advice on your immigration case or take over your immigration paperwork and make you pay for their services. 

The outcome 

For Maine immigrants, the results can be serious. You can have your money stolen. Your immigration case can be damaged or even completely ruined.  

Protect yourself 

Be sure that anyone giving you advice on your immigration paperwork is a lawyer or is supervised by a lawyer. The exception is that some service providers who are not lawyers may offer help with tasks like translating. Don’t worry, that is not the same as illegally doing immigration paperwork or giving legal advice! 

Watch out for people who do any of these things: 

·   Charge you for receiving your mail from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services 

·   Charge you for blank immigration forms 

·   Put false information on immigration forms or tell you to do so 

·   Tell you false information will help you win your immigration case 

·   Tell you they have special “connections” or influence that will help with your immigration case 

·   Say they can’t give you a receipt when you pay them or can’t give you anything with their name on it 

·   Take your identity documents and not return them 

·   Fail to or refuse to sign immigration forms they fill out or translate for you 

·   Fail to or refuse to give you copies of all forms and documents they send to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services 

Take action 

1. Spread the word: Share this information with your immigrant family, friends, and neighbors. 

2. Share your story: It is a crime to trick immigrants out of their money while pretending to help with their legal cases. If you or someone you know has been hurt by this crime, please think about speaking to someone at a trusted organization for help on what to do next. 

3. Speak up for more immigration legal services in Maine: Immigrants in Maine need more quality legal services and more protection from fraud. Talk to elected representatives and others about this need. Ask them to take action against those who are practicing immigrant services fraud.