Feds, state officials partner with community leaders to fight immigration services scams

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 22 2014 7:05 p.m. MST

But many immigrants seeking legal status are vulnerable to scammers because they are reluctant to notify authorities for fear they will be deported.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Huber said prosecutors want to catch predators, not ensnare people who have already been victimized.

"What motivates a prosecutor is when you have a vulnerable community with predators amongst them taking advantage of them," Huber said.

Community activist Tony Yapias said Gonzalez's victims initially contacted him. Yapias reached out to the Utah Attorney General's SECURE Strike Force but wanted assurances that the people Gonzalez had taken advantage of would not be subject to deportation actions. The strike force set up sting and arrested Gonzalez. His case was prosecuted by federal authorities.

All 20 victims were in court the day Gonzalez was sentenced. Barlow said the crime victims were offered "U visas" — which is "nonimmigrant status for victims of crimes who have suffered substantial mental or physical abuse and are willing to assist law enforcement and government officials in the investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity," according to the USCIS website — for their help in convicting Gonzalez.

Barlow said Wednesday's meeting was a jumping off point for a larger community effort to help inform people about available licensed or authorized legal assistance. Federal and state officials plan to work with community organizations that serve immigrants to warn them of fraudulent practices and direct them to legitimate resources and law enforcement agencies that will assist them if they have been defrauded.

Email: marjorie@deseretnews.com

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