Attorney General Hardy Myers today alerted recent immigrants to the United States of possible immigration services fraud and warned providers of such services that any illegal activities would not be tolerated by the Oregon Department of Justice. Myers and U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer, Third District, Portland, joined members of the Attorney General's Immigration Services Fraud Task Force at a Portland news conference on immigration services fraud.
"Immigration law is extremely complex and constantly changing," Myers said. "People should only seek assistance from attorneys or individuals and organizations accredited by the Board of Immigration Appeals."
In an effort to provide Oregon immigrants with the best tools to recognize bad immigration advice, the Department of Justice formed a task force of community organizations and political leaders in 1998.
During the past 12 months, the group supplied Myers' consumer protection section with information concerning businesses and individuals providing immigration services without the assistance of an attorney or accredited representative of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). The joint efforts resulted in the filing of four settlement agreements.
Named in an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance filed today in the Marion County Court House are Diana and James Shanks of Salem, owners of Diana's Translations, a business which primarily engaged in translation and interpretation services but also assisted clients with the completion of immigration forms. The Shanks, which admit no law violations, agreed to comply with the Unlawful Trade Practices Act and state and federal immigration-related laws and to provide $1,124 in restitution to six consumers.
Under the terms of the assurance, the Shanks also agreed to give written notification to all clients stating that Diana's Translations is not qualified to give immigration advice and identifying proper sources of immigration advice. The Salem company paid $2,000 to the Department of Justice consumer protection and education account.
Two Clackamas County businesses providing immigration services, Puertas Abiertas Para America (Open Doors to America) and its successor, Amistad, have been voluntarily dissolved as part of agreements signed with the Department of Justice.
Before closing its doors, Puertas Abiertas provided immigration services without being accredited by BIA and without assistance of an attorney. Owners Paul Dean Nichols and Geraldo Gutierrez, both of Oregon City, agreed to provide more than $7,000 in restitution to 21 customers and paid $1,500 to the Department of Justice.
Amistad, which closed its doors after operating for only three months, was established by former employees of Puertas Abiertas, attorney Dale Stache of Beaverton and Cynthia Hofer of Canby, a notary public. The company advertised as a full service immigration assistance organization when, in fact, the business simply provided administrative services to Stache, a sole practioner of immigration law. Both Hofer and Stache agreed to not violate the law in the future and Hofer paid $1,000 to the Department of Justice. Stache paid $300 and agreed to end all business connections with Amistad.
Other task force accomplishments include the Department of Justice adoption of an administrative rule, which prohibits the misrepresentation of power and authority by notary publics; the establishment of the Attorney General's Spanish language consumer hotline; and the publication of immigration services fraud brochures printed in six languages, including English, Spanish, Russian, Vietnamese, Mandarin Chinese and Serbo-Croatian.
The brochures urge immigrants to think twice before paying for immigration advice and remind those seeking information to do the following:
Determine if the advice giver is an attorney or an accredited representative of the Board of Immigration Appeals. Always ask to see the credentials.
Request an official notice of representation or a written retainer agreement.
Be sure to discuss any possible risks involved before submitting papers to the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS).
Members of the Attorney General's task force include: The Mexican Consulate of Oregon, Oregon Housing and Associated Services, Community Action Agency of Yamhill County, Catholic Charities, Oregon Law Center, Inc., Immigration Counseling Service, SOAR, Centro de Servicios Para Campesinos (PCUN), Lutheran Family Service, ICS (St. Luke Catholic Church of Woodburn), Commission on Hispanic Affairs, and attorneys-at-law, Robert Donaldson, Alan Gallagher, Dick Ginsburg, and Dennis McCaffrey.
State and federal officials represented on the task force include: Governor John Kitzhaber, U.S. Senator Gordon Smith, U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer and State Senator Susan Castillo.
For more information on immigration services fraud, consumers may call the Attorney General's consumer hotline at (503) 378-4320 or (503) 229-5576 (Portland only) or write Financial Fraud/Consumer Protection, 1162 Court Street, N.E., Salem, Oregon 97310.