AUSTIN (CN) – A Travis County judge froze the assets of Just for People, which the Texas attorney general accuses of practicing immigration law without a license.
“Texas law is quite clear about who is authorized to provide immigration consulting services – and Just for People does not pass the test,” Attorney General Greg Abbott said in a statement. “Tuesday’s court order prohibits Just for People from unlawfully offering or providing unauthorized immigration consulting services. The order also prohibits the defendants from continuing to threaten clients or charge customers for services that are never actually rendered.”
The state sued Just for People, Elizabeth Gabriella Paneque, Frank Marimon, Ayan Ismail and Luz Guerero, accusing them of ripping off Spanish-speakers in Austin by charging thousands of dollars for immigration services they never provided. Prosecutors said none of the defendants are licensed attorneys or accredited by the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeal.
“Consumers have paid defendants sums that range from $2,500 up to $50,000 (for an extended family),” the complaint states. “Consumers thought they were paying for immigration services. However, consumers have received no immigration services or assistance. Some consumers have been waiting for up to two years without any information on their applications or acknowledgement from U.S. immigration agencies that the agencies have received the consumers’ documents.”
When people finally realize the defendants are not providing any services, they find it “almost impossible” to get a refund, and the defendants often threaten them with deportation, the attorney general says.
“These threats are especially intimidating because defendant Paneque repeatedly appears at consumers’ homes unexpectedly, demanding money,” the complaint states. “The consumers’ fear of retaliation by defendants is so intense that many have asked that their information not be disclosed to defendants.”
In one case, a customer paid more than $10,000 after Paneque promised “work visas” for several family members, prosecutors said in a statement. The customer said that each time he inquired about the status of his family’s immigration cases, Paneque “became very insulting and aggressive, and threatened me,” according to an affidavit. The customer testified that despite his payments to Paneque, he never obtained a visa or work permit for anyone in his family.
The state seeks a permanent injunction, actual damages and civil penalties of up to $20,000 for each violation of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act.