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Sunday, June 20, 2004

Law shields vulnerable immigrants - 06/20/04

Law shields vulnerable immigrants - 06/20/04

Gov. Jennifer Granholm has signed legislation designed to more closely police people hired to help immigrants obtain permanent residency, citizenship or jobs.

Granholm signed the Michigan Immigration Clerical Act Friday at a community center in southwest Detroit, home to the city’s largest concentration of Hispanics.

“This legislation says to every immigrant, ‘You are ours,’” said Granholm, herself a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Canada. “This legislation will make sure we underscore those words.”

The law requires that anyone offering help in immigration matters register with the state, post a $50,000 bond and sign a written contract in English and the client’s native language before services are provided or compensation accepted. It caps the fees charged for translation or completing paperwork.

The legislation was co-sponsored by state Rep. Steve Tobocman, D-Detroit, who said language barriers and lack of knowledge of U.S. laws and customs make immigrants vulnerable to exploitation.

Tobocman cited cases in which a person promised to obtain permanent residency or citizenship status for an immigrant for a fee of several thousand dollars, then ran off with the immigrant’s money.

In one case, an immigrant was charged $1,000 by someone who completed the paperwork for a driver’s license, said Jane Garcia, board vice president of Latin Americans for Social and Economic Development in Detroit.

“It was an injustice,” Garcia said. “And there was nowhere for (many immigrants) to turn because they were undocumented.”

Dozens of foreign nationals in the Detroit area have faced immigration-related offenses in recent years, but a few providers of immigration services have been charged as well.

A federal grand jury in April indicted Robert Walton, 53, of Detroit on charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States, bribery and aiding foreign nationals to unlawfully obtain citizenship.

The indictment says Walton illegally approved citizenship for two people and gave residency status to two others while working for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, now part of the Department of Homeland Security.

In one case, the government said Walton accepted a diamond earring in exchange for a stamp in an immigrant’s passport that served as a temporary residence permit.

He was further accused of taking a gold and diamond bracelet in exchange for approving a naturalization application from someone who did not meet the literacy requirements.

Former immigration officer Janice Halstead was indicted in April 2003 on charges of helping sell visas to unapproved immigrants who then illegally entered the country. She pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years in prison in April.

According to investigators, Halstead supplied visas to two middlemen who sold them to about 130 immigrants from Yemen and Lebanon for prices ranging from $6,000 to $10,000

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