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In wake of President's immigration order, advocates highlight risk of scams

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

Immigration activists worry that President Obama’s recent executive order could bring scammers out of the shadows.

The new program could let up to five million currently undocumented people gain at least temporary legal status in the US.

For immigrant advocates, the concern is unscrupulous people peddling bad or even phony “help” with the application process.

“A person wants to go into this with their eyes open, and clearly advised of any possible consequences,” said Diego Bonesatti, legal director for the group Michigan United.

Bonesatti says that if undocumented people do get tricked into submitting bad paperwork, it could scuttle their chance to gain legal residency.

“That can damage things, especially if information is incorrect,” he said. “Then you have a big problem walking it back, to explain what had happened, and get this person’s record clean.”

Bonesatti says scammers who do this—commonly known as “notarios” in the Latino community—are always lurking around. But they tend to come out of the woodwork when there are major policy changes.

“Any time there’s a new development in immigration law…this is like a reflex,” he said. “You know that the notarios and other scam artists will be trying to take advantage of it.”

Bonesatti says there’s no formal application process for the expanded “deferred action” program yet—so anyone peddling help with paperwork right now, or warning of a time crunch that requires immediate action, is running a scam.

Bonesatti says Michigan United will begin holding a series of workshops in Metro Detroit houses of worship in December, to better educate the immigrant community about eligibility guidelines and what we know about the application process so far.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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