Investigators are looking for more victims of a disbarred South Bay attorney accused of defrauding nearly 1,000 people who came to him for immigration advice.
James Lopez was arrested on Oct. 25 at his office in Campbell, according to the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office. He faces multiple felony charges, including grand theft, forgery and practicing law without a license.
Lopez worked out of a small grey building on La Pradera Drive, where he allegedly operated without the required clearance from the California Secretary of State and without the $100,000 bond required for immigration consultants.
“Some victims suffered significant losses and immigration delays as a result of services provided by Lopez,” according to sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Richard Glennon.
The 58-year-old attorney has a longstanding record of disciplinary actions that forced him to resign from the California State Bar in 2002 after numerous complaints. Lopez, who became a licensed attorney in 1991 after graduating from Santa Clara University’s law school, was arrested on similar charges in 2008.
But long before that, in 2000, Lopez was suspended for practicing law because of incompetency. And in both 1998 and 1995, he was disciplined for failing to keep his clients informed and for lying to a judge.
“It is critical that those in need of immigration services know that the providers they hire are both competent and are providing services that comply with legal standards,” Glennon noted in a statement. “Local law enforcement is available to help families seek justice regardless of immigration status. Compliance with immigration consulting laws provides the first step in safeguarding the community from fraudulent immigration services and incompetent services resulting in lost cases or deportation.”
In Silicon Valley, where 40 percent of the population was born abroad, president-elect Donald Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric has been met with fear and a call to action. A number of advocates have offered legal help for immigrants at risk of deportation if Trump carries out his campaign pledges.
The San Jose Peace and Justice Center has teamed up with San Jose State University to provide immigration relief for undocumented residents. People interested in applying for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which grants temporary work authorization to immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children, can drop in from 3 to 7pm today or Wednesday at 48 S. Seventh St., in San Jose.
About 750,000 immigrants have benefited from DACA, which President Barack Obama introduced by executive action in 2012. The program allows recipients, known as “Dreamers,” to apply for two-year work permits that protect them from deportation.
Immigration attorneys have cautioned that the temporary work program could backfire under the next presidential administration. By asking undocumented residents to disclose personal information to the government, DACA inadvertently put those beneficiaries at risk under a Trump presidency.
“These are kids who were brought here by their parents,” President Obama said at a press conference last week. “They did nothing wrong. They've gone to school. They have pledged allegiance to the flag. Some of them have joined the military. They've enrolled in school. By definition, if they're part of this program, they are solid, wonderful young people of good character. And it is my strong belief that the majority of the American people would not want to see suddenly those kids have to start hiding again. And that's something that I will encourage the president-elect to look at.”
In response to concerns about potential changes to deportation policies, county supervisors Dave Cortese and Cindy Chavez are working on a way to provide legal representation to people who need it. The plan to expand legal services for undocumented residents will come before the Board of Supervisors on Dec. 6.
“We will do everything we can to make sure our residents know their rights and have access to legal services to protect them from unjust deportation,” Cortese said in a statement. “The county has long strived to be a place where immigrants can live without fear of being uprooted from their homes. That doesn’t go away with a new administration in Washington.”
Earlier this month, the county agreed to spend $200,000 on a fellowship for up to 10 DACA-eligible immigrant youth. The six-month fellowship, which will be offered through the county’s Office of Immigrant Relations, will focus on public safety, civic engagement and financial and English language literacy, among other issues.
The city of San Jose has also invited people who need guidance to contact the Office of Immigrant Affairs. In addition, San Jose’s public libraries have rolled out “Citizenship Corners,” essentially resource centers at 10 local branches. Three branches offer teleconferencing with citizenship lawyers. For information about how to book an appointment, click here.
Last week, California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom called on public universities to declare themselves "sanctuary campuses" for hundreds of thousands of undocumented students.
“California needs to put up a moral wall—as [Trump]’s putting up a physical wall—to push back against Trumpism,” he said during a press conference at the University of California, according to Politico.
Trump’s promise to crackdown on illegal immigration have mobilized Democrats, who had been largely silent about record-high deportations under President Obama. Upon her election to the U.S. Senate, California Attorney General Kamala Harris vowed to protect immigrants. As did San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo.
“We will continue to follow the best practices of local law enforcement professionals nationally by staying out of immigration enforcement,” Liccardo wrote in a column he published on Medium last week.
Local college students will hold a rally on this week to urge local elected officials to do everything in their power to protect immigrants. The demonstration is set to start at 4:30pm Tuesday outside Martin Luther King Jr. Library in downtown San Jose.