2014 Equal Justice Works Fellow Vanessa Stine is implementing her Fellowship project at Friends of Farmworkers in Philadelphia. She is providing direct representation, advocacy, and community education to immigrants affected by predatory and fraudulent legal assistance schemes – a major problem that had not been adequately addressed in Pennsylvania before she began her work. We caught up with Vanessa to learn about how she is empowering her clients through collaborative legal assistance.
What are some of the legal needs of your current immigrant clients?
Low-wage immigrant workers are vulnerable to exploitation on a number of fronts – as workers and consumers. My Fellowship project provides legal assistance to low-wage immigrant consumers who have been victims of predatory and fraudulent immigration services in Pennsylvania.
Can you give some examples of what these fraudulent schemes look like?
Immigration services fraud can take many forms. Scammers may falsely represent themselves as attorneys, immigration agents, or immigration specialists. Fraudsters prey on vulnerable immigrants, who are desperate to legalize their status, by inaccurately advertising immigration relief. Scammers often file erroneous and incomplete applications, which can result in the separation of families as victims get swept up into deportation proceedings. These schemes can be financially devastating for low-wage workers who save for months, or even years, for immigration assistance. The workers struggle to feed their families and pay their bills, and they are often left without any savings – or in debt – after these scams.