Press Releases

Senators Feinstein and Kennedy Introduce Legislation to Prevent and Penalize Exploitation of Immigration System

-Makes it a federal crime to falsely represent oneself as an attorney under federal immigration law -

Washington, D.C. – Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) today introduced legislation that would create a new federal crime to penalize those who misrepresent themselves as attorneys in an effort to defraud individuals – citizens and non-citizens alike - who seek immigration assistance.
Law enforcement officials say a growing number of fraudulent “immigration specialists” are operating throughout the country as attorneys qualified to practice immigration law.

Using fraudulent contracts for services, clients are often promised permanent immigration status and charged exorbitant fees to file paperwork. Often, immigrants permanently lose opportunities for work authorization or immigration relief because these “immigrant specialists” have damaged their cases.

Although immigration law is a federal matter, there currently is no federal statute to penalize and prevent immigration fraud. Also, these cases can be difficult to prosecute because these “immigration specialists” often close their businesses or move to another part of the state or country in order to avoid prosecution.

Their illicit practices are lucrative – they can make between $100,000 to $200,000 a year. The few who have been caught rarely serve more than a few months in jail.

“Many immigrants are preyed upon because of their fears of deportation. Fraudulent ‘immigration specialists’ charge exorbitant fees to file frivolous paperwork that clogs our immigration courts and keeps families and businesses waiting in limbo for years,” said Senator Feinstein. “This bill would take an important step toward preventing the exploitation of both citizens and non-citizens who seek help navigating the complicated world of immigration law.”

The “Immigration Fraud Prevention Act of 2009” (S. 577)

Establishes a new federal crime to:

  • Willfully and knowingly defraud or obtain or receive money or anything else of value from any person by false or fraudulent pretences, representations or promises; 
  • Willfully, knowingly and falsely represent that an individual is an attorney or accredited representative in any matter arising under federal immigration law;

Violations of these crimes would result in a fine, imprisonment of not more than five years, or both;

The bill also authorizes the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security to use task forces currently in existence to detect and investigate individuals who are in violation of the immigration fraud crimes as created by the bill.

The Act would also seek to prevent immigration fraud by:

  • Requiring immigration judges to warn immigrants during removal proceedings about the unauthorized practice of immigration law – similar to current law that requires notification of pro bono legal services to these immigrants; 
  • Providing outreach (in several languages) to the immigrant community to help prevent fraud; and
  • Requiring the disciplinary list of individuals not authorized to appear before the immigration courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) be distributed.