Making Noncitizens’ Rights Real: Evidence from Legal Services Fraud Complaints

Posted: 7 Sep 2017 Last revised: 12 Oct 2018

Date Written: July 24, 2017


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 place where immigrant integration efforts have taken hold but also reveals an unintended consequence: places which prioritize deporting noncitizens are more likely to allow the crimes committed against them to go unpunished.

Keywords: immigration, noncitizens, crime, justice, rights, safety net, legal aid, nonprofits

Suggested Citation

Pedroza, Juan, Making Noncitizens’ Rights Real: Evidence from Legal Services Fraud Complaints (July 24, 2017). Available at SSRN: or

Juan Pedroza (Contact Author)

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

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