Congress hasn't even concluded debate on immigration reform, let alone passed legislation that would extend legal status to immigrants now living in the country unlawfully.
Yet scammers are misrepresenting themselves as businesses that charge fees to help immigrants apply for legal status granted under a law that, in fact, doesn't exist.
That's the fear of the Community Leadership Alliance of Yuma County, a group made of up heads of area social service agencies who have launched a campaign to warn immigrants about immigration fraud.
“We want to stress that there is only a immigration reform proposal,” said Alicia Luna, Yuma County coordinator for Promise Arizona and a member of the alliance, at a recent public forum in Yuma.
“There is no law, there is no application form (for legalization), there is no waiting list to apply. They should immediately avoid any person who tells them they can help them.”
Emma Torres, executive director of Campesinos Sin Fronteras and an alliance member, said it's difficult to know how many people there are in Yuma County who are living illegally in this country or who might take advantage of legalization afforded under any immigration reform measure.
“It's difficult to estimate the number, but we would think there are many,” she said at the same forum.
And they represent potential targets, Torres said. “It concerns us to see the abuse that is happening in our community by individuals who deceive the people with promises, offering them services that don't exist.
“There's a lot misinformation,” Torres added. “Some people get excited because they are told they are going get permits to leave and enter the country. The only certain thing is that there is no law, there is only a proposed law of more than 800 pages — and a debate (in Congress) that has hardly begun. And we don't know what's going to come out of that debate.”
Janet Torricellas, Yuma branch director at Better Business Bureau, said the scammers are operating in the Yuma area and throughout the state, although she knows of no specific cases of anyone being defrauded.
She said both she and the BBB's Phoenix office have taken calls from people wanting to check the credentials of purported businesses that previously offered them help applying for legalization under immigration reform.
In return for filing the application, the scammers may charge the intended victim for an upfront fee ranging from $100 to $1,000, or they may ask for the target's bank account numbers, Torricellas said.