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Legal Ethics

Immigration Law Firm Charged with Visa Fraud

Posted Jul 29, 2009 8:04 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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An immigration law firm in Salt Lake City has been accused of helping arrange for thousands of fraudulent visas for foreign workers.

A federal indictment names the Alcala Law Firm, lawyer James Alcala, two of his partners and five employees, the Associated Press reports. They are charged with visa fraud, alien smuggling and conspiracy.

Investigators believe a majority of the 5,000 work visas obtained by the law firm are fraudulent, according to a press release (PDF). The alleged conspiracy involved the H-2B visa program for temporary foreign workers.

The program requires employers to show that foreign employees for whom they are seeking visas are either in the country legally or living outside the United States for the last six months, the Salt Lake Tribune explains. Federal prosecutors allege the law firm's lawyers and employees coached employers to tell workers who are here illegally to go back to Mexico and to lie when asked if they had been here.

The law firm is also accused of encouraging companies to apply for more visas than needed so they could swap the foreign workers with other employers.

University of Utah immigration law professor David Littlefield told the Salt Lake Tribune that some lawyers are paid by the visa and might have incentive to cut corners.

"I think there are probably many innocent victims here, if in fact this did occur," Littlefield told the newspaper. "In my experience it's certainly not representative of immigration lawyers."

The Deseret News also has the story.

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