By Kate Linthicum
Los Angeles prosecutors have filed criminal charges against a San Fernando Valley man accused of practicing immigration law without a license, part of a new effort to target immigration-related fraud as the federal government prepares to expand a program that offers work permits to millions of people in the country illegally.
Jesus Luna Lozano, 52, has been charged with the unauthorized practice of law and other violations, City Atty. Mike Feuer said at a news conference Thursday. Feuer said Lozano unlawfully gave legal advice to two undercover Los Angeles County investigators who posed as immigrants seeking help with a case.
Lozano, who could face more than five years in jail if convicted, did not return several calls seeking comment Thursday.
The case against Lozano was the result of a new city-county task force formed last fall after President Obama announced the expansion of his deferred action program. It will offer temporary work permits and protection from deportation to millions of immigrants brought to the country as children as well as some parents of U.S. citizens.
Scams are on the rise as immigrants prepare to take advantage of the deferred action programs, Feuer said.
"Over the years, we've seen it happen again and again," Feuer said. "With some immigration announcement come the scam artists."
Rigo Reyes, chief of investigations at the Department of Consumer Affairs, said there may be as many as 2,500 people unlawfully providing immigration advice in California, often to the detriment of their clients' cases.
Some promise to help immigrants get work permits, file asylum claims or apply for other types of relief without actually doing any work, or doing it improperly, he said.
Many claim to be licensed attorneys but are actually state-accredited immigration consultants, who are permitted only to translate answers on immigration forms. Others are rogue public notaries who take advantage of the Spanish word for "notary," which means "lawyer" in some parts of Latin America.
Lozano was subject to a permanent injunction for the unlicensed practice of immigration law in 2003 after a civil lawsuit, Feuer said. Since then, he has been found in contempt of court on two separate occasions for violating the injunction, Feuer added.
The recent investigation began after the county received a complaint that Lozano had not stopped giving legal advice. Undercover investigators with the Department of Consumer Affairs visited Lozano's office in Van Nuys in December and recorded him giving legal advice, Feuer said. Lozano is scheduled to be arraigned Feb. 27.
Since Obama's announcement, local, state and federal authorities have launched education campaigns warning immigrants to consult only those licensed to provide immigration advice.
In another effort to combat immigration scams, Los Angeles leaders launched a campaign last week to provide immigrants who are eligible for Obama's deferred action programs with legitimate legal services.
Mayor Eric Garcetti said the city has partnered with a philanthropic organization to try to raise $10 million to help some of the half a million people eligible for immigration relief in the L.A. area apply for the programs. Much of the money will be distributed through nonprofits that work with immigrants.
The deferred action programs aren't the only new opportunities available to many California immigrants. Beginning in January, immigrants in the county illegally were allowed to apply for a special state-issued driver's license. According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, 57,000 such licenses have been issued since the beginning of the year.
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