L.A. Woman Accused of Scamming Immigrants with Fake Lawyer Hustle

Nubia Esmeralda Burrier provided fraudulent counsel to immigrant clients and charged more than $100,000, L.A. prosecutors say

For 14 years, 56-year-old Nubia Esmeralda Burrier set up shop right across the street from U.S. Immigration Court, meeting with a desperate group of immigrant clients. She offered legal advice and specific recommendations on seeking political asylum, walking clients through all the legal loopholes and intricacies. She collected a total of $127,150 in fees for her expertise, carefully hiding one big catch: Authorities say it was all a scam—she didn’t even have a law degree. 

Now, accused of rendering services never provided and filing for political asylum for clients she knew were not eligible, Burrier has been charged with 10 counts of grand theft and one count of first-degree residential burglary with a person present. So far, she’s known to have gotten the best of 17 victims. 

In a statement released Thursday, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón called Burrier’s practices predatory and particularly despicable for targeting “the most vulnerable victims.” Gascón acknowledged the severity of Burrier’s crimes, saying, “This person allegedly preyed upon immigrants who lacked the sophistication to navigate the immigration system. She was repeatedly told she could not legally provide immigration services, but, nevertheless, she ignored these warnings. These kinds of crimes cheat unassuming people out of their hard-earned money and endanger their immigration status.” 

As reported by the Los Angeles Times, Effrain Arrizon paid Burrier over $14,000 in pursuit of asylum after entering the U.S. illegally with his wife in 2016. Burrier’s unqualified counsel during interviews with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement led to Arrizon’s deportation, along with several of Burrier’s other victims. 

Though these alleged crimes are severe, they are not uncommon. In July 2021, Gascón charged three South Los Angeles relatives who provided similar unlawful legal services. Altogether, the relatives wracked up 72 felony counts between them. According to a statement released by Gascón’s office in 2021, the number of immigration scam complaints in Los Angeles County prior to 2019 was steadily increasing, almost doubling from 2017-2018, going from 147 complaints to 279 complaints.

Investigating the impact and extenuating circumstances influencing this kind of specialized fraud, UC Santa Cruz Assistant Professor of Sociology, Juan Manuel Pedroza, published the first nationwide data analysis on immigration scams targeting noncitizens in early 2022. “There are probably a lot of people who suffer in silence, and the statistics just never capture it,” Pedroza told the UC Santa Cruz newspaper. According to data Pedroza analyzed from the Federal Trade Commission, between 400 and 700 immigration scams were reported annually from 2011 to 2014. Los Angeles was one of three cities showing a higher-than-expected number of immigration scam reports relative to local immigrant populations, especially considering the strong support services available.

Gascón referenced the increasing urgency of addressing immigrants’ victimization, saying in 2021, “Immigrants play a profound role in shaping the character of life in Los Angeles County. These kinds of financial crimes carry even more devastating consequences in some communities… They not only cheat unassuming immigrants of their hard-earned cash but also endanger their immigration status…”

Burrier will be arraigned next week at the Foltz Criminal Justice Center while the case remains under ongoing investigation.

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