A family who hired an immigration attorney to adjust their immigration status was almost deported when the lawyer they hired turned out to be a fake.
Alejandra Manzo told Telemundo 20 she was a victim of fraud. In 2017 she traveled from Rosarito, Baja California, with her three children and her husband to start a new life in the U.S. The family crossed on tourist visas and decided to naturalize through their American dad who was also a war veteran.
"My husband was working and living in San Diego. What we wanted is to be united and that he was not crossing every day, and we came [to San Diego], we liked it and we decided to stay," says Manzo.
They then hired a lawyer to start the process, until they received bad news.
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"They [USCIS] sent me a letter that I had to leave the United States in 30 days because the papers had not been filled out properly. And the lawyer hadn't sent form I-485, so he hadn't done anything," Manzo says.
A nightmare for any immigrant, who puts their trust, money and life in the hands of immigration lawyers.
"We didn't have any money anymore, and what we did to start over was to sell our property in Mexico, in Rosarito," Manzo said.
With no money, with an expulsion order for her and her children, Manzo confronted the scammer.
"I told him, ‘You are not a lawyer,’ and he told me, ‘I did not tell you that I was a lawyer,’" she said.
He also did not want to return the money. According to Esther Valdes, an immigration attorney, the applications were charged thousands of dollars, "more than $9,000."
After investigating, Manzo found another lawyer named Esther Valdés, and they proceeded with her case and to denounce the previous one filed.
"Immediately what is done in these types of cases, which is immigration fraud, is to communicate with the state bar," Valdes says. "It turns out that that person's name doesn't appear in the records of the California lawyers' cluster."
"He wasn't a lawyer, he wasn't a notary, he was nothing," Manzo says.
"This person was simply making money, not being able to give the work, advice and lack of representation," adds Valdés.
According to Manzo, ICE approached the family to tell them that they had already identified the lawyer as an alleged fraudster "the officer told him that they had detected Marcelo, they had photos of him and that he had affected several families and a family that had children with disabilities."
"We also went to the fraud investigations unit with UCIS, which quickly launched an investigation, and we were able to receive a refund," Manzo adds.
Finally, after 3 years of legal litigation and fear of deportation, Manzo and her children presented themselves to immigration court with due legal representation.
"In the interview, the officer is very friendly, and gave us all residency," she said.
It's a happy ending, but with many setbacks, fears, and unnecessary expenses.
If you are hiring the services of an immigration attorney, you can look up their name on Calbar.ca.gov.
This story was originally reported by NBC 7's sister station, Telemundo 20. To read the article, click here.