Weld County is launching a campaign to educate immigrants about the importance of reporting crimes to the police. "We want everyone to report crime, every time," Ken Buck, the Weld County district attorney, said today at a press conference in Greeley.
That includes undocumented immigrants and refugees who may be targeted by fraudsters who figure immigrants will be hesitant to report the crimes because they're afraid of law enforcement.
"We came from a different country (where) the government is not for the people, but against the people," said Asad Abdi, a native of Ethiopia and the director of the Global Refugee Center in Greeley. The refugees -- who Abdi prefers to call "new Americans" -- "don't trust the government, so they don't come forward," he says.
Weld County is a diverse place. About 9.5 percent of its 252,825 residents were born in a foreign country, such as Mexico, Burma or Somalia, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Nearly 19 percent speak a language other than English at home. Many refugees came to Greeley to work at the JBS Swift & Company meatpacking plant.
The new campaign is called "Preventing and Reporting Crimes Against Immigrants." It will distribute free brochures and posters -- which have been translated into Spanish, Somali and Arabic -- to churches and other immigrant organizations that explain how to identify, prevent and report crime. Buck, who narrowly lost to Michael Bennet in the 2010 race for a U.S. Senate seat, and his colleagues are also offering to give free presentations to community groups about the rights of victims and witnesses.
"We are so glad to see elected officials...stepping forward," Abdi said.
One of the most common scams targeting immigrants involves "notarios," or notaries public who pose as legal experts. Notarios often offer to help undocumented immigrants obtain and fill out free, and sometimes unnecessary, immigration paperwork -- for a fee.
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Erika Hernandez knows what it's like to be scammed. Her husband is undocumented, and she hired a woman who said she could help get his paperwork in order so he could live and work here legally. "She said if we went with her, he wouldn't have to leave the United States," Hernandez said. Federal law allows American citizens, such as Hernandez, to apply for green cards for their undocumented spouses. But those spouses must return to their native countries to get a visa -- and are then barred from the U.S. for several years.
Hernandez and her husband hoped to avoid that. They paid the woman a total of $1,600 to help them fill out paperwork. She also told them to pay fees to the federal government, including a $1,000 fine for Hernandez's husband entering the country illegally.
Hernandez suspected something wasn't right when she began receiving letters from federal immigration authorities telling her that her husband didn't qualify for a green card under the programs for which she'd filled out paperwork and paid fees. She eventually made an appointment with an immigration officer, who confirmed that she'd been scammed.
Sometime later, a district attorney contacted her and said law enforcement was investigating the fraudster. Hernandez's husband was hesitant to cooperate with authorities, but they eventually won the court case. However, Hernandez hasn't gotten her money back, and she now has to start all over again with regard to getting her husband a green card. "I want us to have a better life," she said. Currently, her husband can't work because he's undocumented, and the couple has a two-year-old daughter. "It's nice to know there are people out there who are willing to help," she added.
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Buck said he's been working to start this campaign for a while, and that it wasn't prompted by a particular crime. Other Weld County officials are on board as well, including Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway and Weld County Sheriff John Cooke. "No one should have to tolerate being a victim just because they're an immigrant," Cooke said.
More from our Immigration archive: "Marijuana legalization efforts undermined by immigration ruling?"Follow me on Twitter @MelanieAsmar!