Vimbai Chikomo Jan. 24, 2016, 6:45pm

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Federal agents are investigating a non-profit organization that allegedly promised adult immigrants in Northern California a sure path to citizenship through adult adoption by American families.

Federal agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Immigration and Customs Enforcement seized files and computers from Americans Helping America Chamber of Commerce Agency (AHA) offices on Dec. 22. According to the affidavit, investigators were searching for evidence for alleged mail fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy to defraud undocumented immigrants.

According to reports, Dr. Helaman Hansen, founder and CEO of AHA, allegedly told undocumented immigrants that they could become American citizens with the help of Hansen and AHA if they were willing to pay $5,000 to $10,000.

“Adult adoption is legitimate, but it doesn’t help you for any immigration purpose,” Attorney Joseph LaComb said.

LaComb said adult adoption is often done for estate planning purposes or to formalize a long-term tie to the person being adopted, and only changes the immigration status of children 16 and under.

Working with another attorney, LaComb filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of immigrants against AHA, accusing the company of fraud.

“I think they’re hiding behind the average person’s ignorance of immigration laws," LaComb said. "Every story I get from people that go through this is they get the adoption done, and AHA applies for an ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number). AHA tells them that it’s a Social Security Number, which it isn’t, and then they tell them to go get a driver’s license with a new name and new ITIN. And then that’s when the stalling starts."

LaComb added that many people wait for lengthy periods of time and are given several excuses for the delay in gaining citizenship.

“They tell them that they need to get their paperwork ready to submit to the government for their citizenship and that it takes time because they are dealing with the government,” LaComb said.

Because adoption records are sealed, the questions many ask often go unanswered, LaComb said.

“I think the sealed records issue is a good excuse for AHA because some people have asked about who has gotten citizenship, and they were told that the information is protected. But if someone is a citizen you’re able to verify it,” LaComb said. 

According to its website, AHA provides membership packages that include “Immigration Integration services.”

LaComb said AHA is telling immigrants that if their adoption is done then their entire family can become citizens.

“I think the fact that they would go to the superior court and they would have this order for adoption and sometimes take photos after the hearing, added a lot of legitimacy to it," LaComb said. "I’m positive that the judges had no involvement in this, but AHA took advantage of the legitimacy of the courts to push these adoption papers."

LaComb said Hansen has been using various means to discourage immigrants from taking any stance against the agency.

“We had a meeting in Sacramento with a lot of people form Fiji and Tonga," LaComb said. "We were expecting 50-60 people and only a dozen showed up because AHA found out about the meeting and started hand delivering flyers threatening people not to go."

The Northern California Record obtained a copy of a flyer informing AHA members of an upcoming meeting. At the top of the flyer was a news story on a recent wave of federal raids rounding up undocumented immigrants, including children, across the country.

The flyer then addressed pastors, ministers, chief of tribes, local leaders and local families and urged them to attend a meeting on Jan. 30 at AHA warning, “If you do not come to this meeting, then this agency will have no choice, but to exercise the federal law that has been passed/authorised to us by the Homeland Security to hand in all the list of the above people’s status to the Homeland Security and that’s by the law.”

The flyer further advised that the meeting is a “chance to get help,” and that AHA will not “break the law if you do not attend this meeting.”

In a YouTube video published on Jan. 13, Hansen spoke about the meeting and said, “I need you to understand this, we are not doing anything against the law, we are not doing anything against the people. We have opened our doors now for 4 years for everybody, from adoption to immigration to all kinds of things that are going to help everybody, but it’s entirely up to you. So we still abide by the law. As a chamber of commerce, we have to abide by the law,” he said.

LaComb told the Northern California Record that about 70 plaintiffs have joined the class action suit so far, and that Hansen replied individually to the complaint.

“AHA did not [reply], so now it’s a matter of us moving forward with a default judgment,” LaComb said.

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