Few problems facing the country today are quite as complex, or as intractable, as immigration reform, an issue that has dogged three administrations and suffered uncountable setbacks in just the last decade alone. Clinton espoused it, Bush attempted it, and now Obama is trying to complete it, though success is far from assured. Our immigration system is certainly flawed. Tens of thousands of people come flooding across the vast and just about un-monitorable U.S. border, not just at our Southern border with Mexico, but also north through Canada and at coastlines up and down the U.S. This is all in addition to the prohibitively complex visa system, which has led to problems of its own. A lot has been written, then, about the necessity of immigration reform, and how it can be achieved — but what are some of the specific problems happening right now, especially the day-to-day scams that immigration reform would address and end?
Immigration scams, or attempts (unfortunately, usually successful) by groups to swindle would-be immigrants out of money, land, or documents, broadly fall into three categories: personal scams, institutional scams, and online scams. Many of these scams are well-known, while others are much harder to trace, but all of them are extremely painful for the would-be immigrant and often leave them poorer and even occasionally unable to apply properly for a visa or immigrate to the U.S.
Personal Scams are scams that revolve around "immigration agents," third-party people, often posing as American citizens or U.S. government employees, in other countries across the world, who circulate around a country, usually in smaller villages away from strong monitoring, and demand large sums to expedite a move to the United States. They can demand up to hundreds of thousands of dollars, while tantalizing immigrants (many of whom are highly skilled or educated) with promises of rewarding jobs in U.S. population centers like Austin or New York. Once they are paid, these con men usually fade away, disappearing and leaving the family with nothing to show for their money. Other times, they might write contracts for the family that are entirely null and void, because of their lack of connection to the U.S. immigration services, or because they do not possess the powers of notary that they claim to possess.
Institutional scams usually don't revolve around government institutions, but rather private institutions, i.e. ones that claim to possess the power to "expedite your visa" or "provide a visa for a fee to qualified immigrants." The U.S. immigration services rarely, if ever, expedite the process for a visa, whether the worker is skilled or unskilled, and the fee certainly doesn't change based on what business submits it. Many small businesses even promise a visa in exchange for a certain amount of work (or, of course, a substantial fee), at the conclusion of which the immigrant is either left high and dry, or left to the will of the conventional visa application process.
Online scams are often the hardest to pinpoint, because of the lack of a single identifiable perpetrator. The two major subsets of these immigration scams, websites and fake visa lottery scams, both perform the same trick, though in different ways: Both promise a visa, or instructions on obtaining one, while often providing false or partial information. While these may or may not require money (often a "token fee" is required to access the information) they do generate unnecessary confusion about an already opaque immigration process. Many fake websites will offer false instructions or misleading links that may offer guides to obtaining a visa or offers for free entrance visas. In truth, the only website that is guaranteed to give a visa is the U.S. immigration website. More insidious are the fake lottery scams, which revolve around the "diversity visas" the U.S. issues by lottery every year to countries historically underrepresented in U.S. immigration. Fake emails or communications are sent to thousands of immigrants offering them a visa, and a few of these are scams, sent by private individuals or groups seeking to gather money instead.
Immigration is a rocky and dangerous path as it is, and these attempts to exploit some very vulnerable people only cause a great hardship to a great many people, many of whom only aspire to be contributing citizens. However, information is the surest guard against these, and by staying ahead of the scammers, immigrants and citizens (Democrat or Republican) alike can prevent these scams from happening, and push for reforms that will stop them from ever happening again.