The lack of support for nonprofit legal services across the country has left many immigrants vulnerable to fraud, according to a study by Stanford University’s Center for Poverty and Inequality.
Just four percent of U.S. counties work with nonprofit organizations that provide legal aid services, making it difficult for immigrants to navigate the “bureaucratic labyrinth” involved in applying for green cards and work permits, said the study, entitled “Making Noncitizens’ Rights Real.”
Noncitizens are also at a disadvantage in seeking legal counsel when they become victims of consumer fraud, the study said.
The author of the study, Juan Manuel Pedroza, a graduate research fellow at the Stanford Center, said those counties which already support a web of nonprofit legal social services for the poor and victims of crime, have higher rates of identifying and combating fraud.
“Higher nonprofit staff levels promote the ability to maintain vigilance and spot fraud,” added Pedroza, who said his study represented the first nationwide analysis of immigration legal services crime.
Using data obtained through a Freedom of Information request to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which began tracking complaints related to immigration services in 2011, Pedroza concluded that access to justice for noncitizens was unequal.
Officially, the vast majority of locations throughout the country report little to no immigration legal services crime, but that appears due to the lack of local investment in a social safety net and legal aid to ensure that noncitizens get the support they are legally entitled to, Pedroza wrote.
“It takes a web of expertise and support to make rights….a reality,” he wrote.
He noted that the data provide only a partial picture. FTC complaints between 2011 and 2014 were unevenly distributed across 3,135 counties throughout the U.S.. Approximately two-thirds of noncitizens (15 million) live in just 90 counties.
“An unknown [number] of noncitizens seeking legal help….fall victim to scam artists who leverage their clients’ lack of familiarity with a complex immigration system,” the study said. “When immigration legal services crime comes to light, much of it likely goes unreported.”
The enactment of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) resulted in a surge in demand for legal services. But after IRCA, legal professionals simply could not meet the rising demand of immigrants looking to adjust their legal status—leading to most immigration cases being handled by notaries, or those who pose as such.
As a result, access to justice for noncitizens remains unequal, the study concluded.
The full essay can be read here.
This summary was written by TCR news intern Brian Edsall. Readers’ comments are welcome.