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As Congress moves forward with immigration reform, we take a look at how this issue connects to culture, business and families in the Northwest.Our region is home to a unique blend of immigrants who work in all parts of our economy — from high-tech to agriculture. This population already has a deeply-rooted history here. And its ranks are expanding rapidly.Proposals for comprehensive immigration reform address border security, employment verification, guest-worker programs and pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the US.

Washington Attorney General Cracks Down on Immigration Scams

The Washington Attorney General's office has taken action against Orona & Associates in Everett, the business advertised here.  A consent decree assessed $8,000 in civil penalties and $1,500 in costs and fees.
courtesy Northwest Immigrant Rights Project
The Washington Attorney General's office has taken action against Orona & Associates in Everett, the business advertised here. A consent decree assessed $8,000 in civil penalties and $1,500 in costs and fees.

A crackdown on scammers offering fraudulent immigration services found hundreds of victims, Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said Wednesday in announcing action against four businesses.

Ferguson said fraudulent “consultants” known “notarios públicos” as are preying on new, vulnerable immigrants.

Seattle attorney Deborah Niedermeyer says clients lost $8,000 in an immigration fraud and sued the provider, EC New Horizons of Lakewood.

The case is believed to be the first of its type brought by individuals under a 2011 state law, which targets scammers who offer immigration services they’re unqualified to handle.

Niedermeyer says consequences for victims can be dire.

"I can tell you that I have many clients who have been put into deportation proceedings due to problems with immigration consultants," she said.

Neidermeyer says these scams can run wild when immigration reform is in the news – like earlier this year, when President Barack Obama announced new protections for some undocumented immigrants.

“There are fliers all over the place announcing that amnesty is upon us and that you just need to come into their office and pay them $500," she said.

But the immigrants are left empty-handed.

Ferguson says the deceptive practices are rampant across the state. He said EC New Horizons, owned by Edwin Cruz and Maurice Terry, is one of the four businesses his office targeted in a recent sweep.

“We’ve identified, we think, close to 400 potential victims from EC New Horizons just in the past few years,” he said. “That’s one entity, just in the last few years, to give you a sense of scale of the challenge and the amount of fraud we see in these cases.”

The AG’s office says the lawsuit brought by Niedermeyer’s clients in 2014 alerted them that EC New Horizons had potentially violated a prior consent decree agreement.

The office said it filed a $235,000 action in court Wednesday against EC New Horizons, including payment of previous penalties and $150,000 in restitution to victims.

Also filed in court Wednesday were consent decrees assessing penalties and fees of:

  • $16,955 from Rosi Immigration Services in Tacoma and resulting in closure of the business.
  • $9,500 against Servicio en Español LLC in Everett.
  • $9,500 against Orona & Associates also in Everett.

While immigration fraud often targets Latino communities, it can also hit Asian, African and other immigrant communities, the Attorney General’s Office said. Ferguson says these scams are often underreported because of language and cultural barriers.
His office also gave a $125,000 grant to the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, a Seattle nonprofit, to help with anti-fraud outreach and education.

Ferguson says investigations are underway into other businesses across the state.

Year started with KUOW: 2006