Scams surround immigration services

Don’t pay for citizenship help without reading about what’s free

By Penny Fletcher

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APOLLO BEACH — Victor Hugo Guardado says it breaks his heart how many people have paid thousands of dollars to scam artists trying to become citizens of the United States.

An immigration consultant and son of a now-retired immigration lawyer, Victor first went into business in Sacramento, Calif. in 1992 and opened a second branch in South County in April.

American Trans Com Inc. Immigration Services is a 501 (3) C tax exempt organization that guides people through the citizenship process as well as other statuses that allow for legal residency.

“We still operate in California, but I wanted to move here because there is such an ethnic variety, as opposed to somewhere like Miami, where about 70 percent (of their clientele) would be Cuban. Here, there are all kinds of people.”

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Penny Fletcher Photo
Victor Hugo Guardado, an immigration consultant, and his father (of the same name) a retired attorney from California, try and keep as many people as possible from paying huge sums to scammers to guide them through the process of legal immigration for themselves or a family member. The Guardado’s 501(3)C tax-exempt organization says they operate on a sliding income scale and the first consultation is always free.

Victor says most of his clients are Hispanic, but not all, and the Hispanics he has as clients here are from all over, including Cuba, El Salvador, Venezuela, South America, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Mexico.

“Every initial consultation is free. In that consultation I can tell you if I can help you or not. There are rules and conditions that apply to everyone equally. If anyone- even lawyers- tell you they can get you in legally through loopholes costing thousands of dollars do not pay! Many have lost everything by paying for services that are illegal, if not impossible, to perform.”

Clients do not have to meet face-to-face for Victor and his small group of employees to guide them through the process. He says they work by telephone, fax and the U.S. mail.

He also makes contact through email; the Internet and his Web site.

“The misinformation about this is what kills people. It can bankrupt them for life,” he explained. “And what hurts me most is that it comes from word-of-mouth between the Latino community (members) themselves.”

Word-of-mouth, not advertising, is what people who are not citizens trust most. “They say, I am the cousin of the brother of so-and-so that you helped back in such-and-such place and year,” he told me. “They are afraid to trust unless they know someone you have helped. It took years to get the trust in California and I expect it to take awhile here as well.”

Naturally, having covered several Citizenship Oath ceremonies over the years I was curious about his services. And how a non-profit company could operate if not funded by the government.

And so I asked him to explain the operation. As it turned out, there is a lot that precedes the Oath Ceremony I did not know about.

“The most important thing is you must have a qualifying relative as a citizen sponsor. If you do not have a spouse, child over 21, parent or sibling already a citizen, you cannot become one no matter what, or who you pay. The status for citizenship is the qualifying relative. And you must already be a U.S. citizen to request that a child under 21 become a citizen.”

People often confuse illegal status with just not being a citizen.   

There are many other status by which a person can legally be in the United States, Victor explained. “For instance, you can be a permanent resident. I see this with a lot of Canadians who don’t want to give up their citizenship in Canada, often for their health care. A permanent resident can keep their citizenship if they abide by the rules for that status.” (Which is another topic altogether.)

But while a permanent resident, or someone here on a student or work visa (green card status) can lose the right to stay in the United States, a citizen cannot be deported.

“Some people with legitimate visas just forget and  let them expire, get married and just forget to renew them,” he pointed out. “Sometimes, our work is simply to help them get through the red tape.”

Victor gives free seminars on citizenship, visas, and red tape at both Saint Anne Catholic Church and the Ruskin Chamber of Commerce. “They have both been very open to me and to our work,” he said.

He works on a sliding scale, based on the federal poverty guidelines and many of his clients are free while others pay.

To become a citizen, a person must have been a permanent resident for at least five years, have no felonies or not more than two misdemeanors for the same offense; must submit paperwork and (in most cases) a $675 fee; and then wait about six-to-eight months for the Immigration Service to call them in for an oral examination.

This exam consists of two parts: Government-civics history and an English reading and writing test.

It is given only in English.

“It is only given in another language if the person applying is disabled or more than 70 years of age,” he explained.

Only after all this comes the Citizenship Oath ceremony.

When asked about the case he remembers best, he went through a litany of pathetic cases where people had been over-charged, lied to; frightened into hiding; and jailed for lack of knowledge.

But one case that stuck out in his mind was a family of five in California – a mother, father and three children- who had paid more than $16,000 to a lawyer and still had not attained citizenship.

“It was such an easy thing for me to straighten out and should have cost them only a few hundred dollars,” he said. “The word really needs to get out because there are so many scams going around.”

To find out more about it, visit www.americantranscomimmigrationservices.org; email Victor at moc.o1414817404ohay@1414817404mocsn1414817404artna1414817404cirem1414817404a1414817404 or call (813) 938-5497 or (813) 938-7550.

 

 

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