Chicago Woman Indicted for Posing as Immigration Attorney

Maricela Haro has been indicted for finding vulnerable immigrants and scamming them out of thousands of dollars.
Knowing how strongly her victims wanted to become legal residents, she falsely claimed that she was an immigration attorney, and that her brother was a high-level U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services official who would sign off on any legal residency application. She offered to meet potential clients at a restaurant, rather than at her supposed downtown office, so she wouldn’t have to charge a $200 “consultation fee”. Then she promised them she could guarantee permanent residency status within a year, no matter their situation.

After she charged $2,500 as part of the “application fee,” she went on to grow personally close with her victims. She invited them to her house for parties, including her daughter’s quinceañera – and even asked one of them to pick up her children from school. The victims say they grew to trust Haro and her family after spending time together.

But Haro didn’t deliver on her promises. After taking application fees, she told them to wait for a letter in the mail – sometimes for over a year – and tried to assuage her victims when the letter didn’t arrive. After a while, she just stopped answering the phone.

Working with Cook County Commissioner Jesus Garcia and his staff, victims filed complaints at the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission and the Chicago Police Department. Those complaints led to Haro’s October arrest. She has since been indicted on “theft of property obtained by deception” for allegedly scamming 12 people, according to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. She is being held at the Cook County Jail until a Nov. 26 hearing and was unavailable to comment for this story.

Haro’s case provides a rare glimpse into a serious problem of immigration fraud that continues to plague immigrant communities. Many victims are afraid to lodge complaints—they are undocumented and not familiar with the legal system, said Laura Lichter, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, a group of attorneys who practice and teach immigration law.

“Victims are inherently vulnerable, and scammers count on that,” Lichter said. “Victims are not willing to come forward and report it. [Immigrants] don’t feel safe reporting it; they fear that, if they report it, they will get in trouble.”

Commissioner Garcia said he’s seen the problem only get worse over the years, and he doesn’t expect it to go away any time soon. “I’m especially afraid that if the immigration reform happens,” he said, “there’s going to be an explosion of deceptive practices by shady characters waiting to rip people off.”

Ivan Perez said he never thought he would fall victim to a scammer. He met Haro through a friend in 2011. She told him she could help him and his wife become legal permanent residents – at the price of $2,500 each – and promised to get him a work authorization within a few months. She called later to ask for another $1,500 for each case to cover a supposed penalty for entering the country illegally, Perez confided.

Perez waited for about nine months before checking up on Haro. She never answered when he called to check on the status of his application. Eventually, he figured out what had happened – and that he and his wife weren’t the sole victims. At a meeting organized by Garcia’s staff, he met more than 20 other victims. Some of them are still afraid to publicly come out to tell their stories, he said.

Perez said he had sacrificed time with his family to save money – working two jobs and sleeping in short spurts – ever since he and his wife immigrated from the state of Michoacan, Mexico, more than a decade ago. “I feel bad. I feel dumb,” Perez said. “My friends make fun of me. They ask me, ‘How did you believe that she was a lawyer?’”

“I went to the police because she already stole money from me,” he added. “I don’t want that to happen to other people. I want her to pay for what she deserves.”

By María Inés Zamudio


Translating between English and… English

primary education in Europe) are called elementary education in the U.S.  The phase after that is high school (generally grades 9-12 in the U.S.).In Europe, the types of degrees are undergraduate (such as bachelor’s) and postgraduate (Master’s, PhD).  In the U.S. these are called undergraduate and graduate.A college that might be termed “chartered” or “incorporated” in Europe would be called “accredited” in the U.S. Accreditation is a process of validation in which institutions of higher learning are evaluated according to a set of standards.A course in Europe would be called a program in the U.S.  A course in the U.S. would refer to just one class.  You might say, “I’m taking four courses this semester: Writing, Chemistry, Research Methods, and Hydrology.”  And of course programme is spelled program in the U.S.If you want to note which date you took which course, pay attention to the order of the day and month.  The European date format is day/month/year — so 4/6/2013 is June 4, 2013.  The American date format is month/day/year – so 4/6/2013 is April 6, 2013.To continue your philology major in the U.S., look for linguistics.  Similarly, what is called electronics engineering in Europe is known as computer engineering in the U.S.Finally, if you want to take the railway to your new college, you need to look for the railroad. Unfortunately, our railroad network is used more for freight than passengers. You might do better to rent a car. ]]>

Immigration Laws Unfair, Hurt Economy

Boston Herald’s recent opinion piece (September 16, 2013) by the president of the American Bar Association argues that comprehensive immigration reform is vital to preserve American competitiveness.James R. Silkenat writes:

“Even the brightest foreign students graduating from U.S. universities cannot obtain continuing visas and are forced to leave the United States, taking their knowledge and ideas with them… Matters of life and liberty are decided in our system of immigration justice without the most basic protections [such as legal counsel] that we expect in American courts.”
Thus, the U.S. House of Representatives must pass comprehensive immigration reform. The U.S. Senate has offered a bipartisan CIR bill, which, while not perfect, is better than continuing the current system that divides children from their parents, erodes our borders and hurts the U.S. economy. Realistic immigration reform can strengthen our borders and address the tremendous costs — monetary and moral — of enforcement and detention.Source:]]>

Immigration reform may help Florida real estate sales

Monday, May 13, 2013 Two relatively little-known provisions of the “Jobs Originating through Launching Travel Act” – the federal bill still in its early stages – could further stimulate a growing housing recovery in Southwest Florida.  Many people have heard of the enforcement provisions, but these two key points could create a direct economic benefit for parts of the U.S., including Southwest Florida.Under the proposed federal reform, the stays in the U.S. of Canadian visitors and real estate buyers could be extended.  It also would grant temporary visas to foreigners from any country who pay cash for luxury real estate in the U.S.Canadian buyers, in particular, have been among the biggest purchasers of Southwest Florida, and cash transactions now account for two-thirds of all deals regionally.Foreigners could apply for a temporary visa for year-round residency if they:

  • purchase $500,000 or more worth of property,
  • maintain ownership,
  • reside in the U.S. for more than six months a year,
  • are at least 55 years old,
  • hold full health insurance coverage, and
  • pass mandatory criminal background screening
Currently, foreign home buyers who have not obtained U.S. citizenship can only stay here for six months in any given calendar year. Under the new proposal, foreign real estate buyers could apply to renew their temporary visa every three years.Under the bill, Canadian retirees could visit the U.S. for up to 240 days at a time if they:
  • maintain a residence in Canada,
  • be at least 55 years old,
  • have purchased or signed a rental agreement for a property in the U.S. worth $250,000 or more,
  • hold full health insurance coverage, and
  • pass mandatory criminal background screening
Most Canadians, however, would risk losing their centralized health care back home if they leave their country for more than six months.Area Realtors hope relaxed immigration rules could further lift sales to a segment of buyers that already is energizing the housing market.  Realtors say Canadians flock to Southwest Florida because they see value here. “I go up to Canada every year, show them pictures of palm trees and beaches, and they come on down,” Bill Weed, a Realtor with brokerage firm Michael Saunders & Co. in Lakewood Ranch, told the Herald Tribune. “It feels like that feeding frenzy again.” Source: Josh Salman, Herald Tribune, Sarasota, Florida]]>

Scroll to Top