Community and religious groups are reporting an increase in scams targeting undocumented immigrants in the wake of Utah's immigration reforms.
Rose Maizner, director of development at the Enriching Utah Coalition, said her group has received so many calls from people saying they have been approached by unscrupulous vendors selling phony guest-worker permits that her nonprofit is using its crisis line.
"Everyone is both confused and excited," Maizner said. "Fraud has been an issue in the community in the past, but with the new legislation, it's almost like the fraud has been sanctioned or legitimized."
She said reports of bogus guest-worker permits began appearing as early as December, when Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City, unveiled a bill aimed at creating a pilot guest-worker program run by the state. That measure never made it out of the Senate.
But when HB116 passed and was signed by Gov. Gary Herbert two weeks ago, the calls increased.
HB116, sponsored by Rep. Bill Wright, R-Holden, also establishes a state-run guest-worker program, but requires federal waivers to operate. Among the provisions are a requirement for those already living in Utah without documents to pay a $2,500 fine to get a guest-worker permit or a $1,000 fine if the undocumented person overstayed a visa.
It doesn't take effect until 2013 and never will unless the federal government allows it.
Maizner said scammers are using the $2,500 figure to rope people into buying a guest-worker permit, though she hasn't seen anyone actually try to buy one yet.
The Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City also is troubled by the rise in guest-worker permit fraud. Spokeswoman Colleen Gudreau said the diocese sent a leaflet to all 49 parishes last week warning parishioners of the potential problem.
"Immediately after the legislation was passed, we got reports of the scams through our people at Holy Spirit Ministries," Gudreau said. "It is a scam and we want everyone to be aware of it."
Bishop John C. Wester also cautioned people in an open letter posted on the Intermountain Catholic website not to fall for fake guest-worker permits.
Jennifer Bolton, spokeswoman at the Utah Department of Commerce, said no cases of fraud have made it to the state Division of Consumer Protection, but added that any complaints about a person unwittingly buying a guest-worker permit would be investigated.
Bolton said the early reports of those being approached to buy the fake permits were "alarming" and that the department would monitor any developments.
Paul Murphy, spokesman for Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, said his office'sSECURE Strike Force unit which investigates fake-identification mills, licenses and other immigration fraud "is on the lookout" for phony permits.
Free seminar set
What • Enriching Utah Coalition seminar on the state's immigration reforms
Where • Horizonte Training and Instruction Center, 1234 S. Main St., Salt Lake City
When • 5:30 p.m. Friday