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Noncitizens applying for green cards and employment authorization encounter a bureaucratic labyrinth: limited information, costly fees, and fear of coming out of the shadows all create incentives to defraud immigrants as they pursue legal services to navigate the U.S. immigration system. This paper is the first empirical study of legal services crime targeting immigrants. It explores the county level determinants of legal service fraud complaints submitted to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and answers the question: where are noncitizens most likely to claim their rights of territorial membership by reporting these crimes? Results indicate that immigration scams were brought to the attention of the FTC more often in counties with a strong safety net, measure by above-average food stamp use among Hispanic households. Free legal aid services for immigrants can also make a difference in bringing immigration scams to light, while high deportation rates and Republican governments are associated with places where fewer legal services crimes were reported than one might expect based on noncitizen population size alone. This suggests not only that claims to justice tend to emerge in places where immigrant integration efforts have taken hold but also that places which prioritize deporting noncitizens are – somewhat ironically – more likely to allow the crimes committed against them to go unpunished.
Juan M. Pedroza is an Assistant Professor of Demography, Migration and Inequality in the sociology department at the University of California, Santa Cruz. His research concerns the vast inequalities present in immigrants' access to justice, the social safety net, and poverty. His latest work examines how and where deportation and enforcement initiatives exacerbate these inequalities and leave imprints in our local communities.