If you're in this country illegally, and you want to do the right thing by applying for legal status, here's some advice from an immigration lawyer: Don't; don't ask the government for legal status; don't tell them you're here.
That's from Jose Hernandez, an immigration lawyer, who says he often tells illegal immigrants, "There is nothing I can do for you. Do not even look for answers. There's nothing that can be done for you."
The story we've been reporting for "360°" is a sad one. It started 17 years ago, when a 14-year-old Mexican girl named Maria Christina Garcia ran away from home. She tells me she was running from an abusive father.
Garcia crossed the border into California in the back seat of a friend's car at San Ysidro. She found work at a Taco Bell, and later a Target, and then at a large hospital. She gave birth to two sons -- both American citizens, now enrolled in good public schools in Orange County -- and kept a tidy apartment in a nice neighborhood.
But she made one very big mistake: She believed a storefront immigration consultant could help her get legal status. She paid this consultant $8,000.
Prosecutors now say the whole thing was a fraud, a nasty fraud, because in addition to taking her money, the immigration consultants told the U.S. government all about Maria Christina. She's about to be deported. The government told her she has just over a month left in this country.
She was the victim of an immigration fraud scam so common that her current lawyer rolls his eyes when he describes it. "What they tell them is: 'In 90 days, I can get you a work authorization, and within about a year, year-and-a-half, you will be able to get your green card.'"
As Hernandez tells it, the immigration consultant first applies for asylum in Maria's name. That application is quickly denied, because illegal immigrants from Mexico are generally not eligible for asylum.
The case is then turned over to an immigration court, which begins deportation proceedings. Because that sometimes takes a long time, and because the U.S. government believes in due process, an immigrant in deportation proceedings can be eligible for a temporary work permit.
This is what Maria got, and immigrants fight for these permits because they can use them, legally, to get a drivers license and a valid Social Security card.
At that point, says Hernandez, "Most of these immigrants think, 'We're on the right path. We're actually getting what we were promised.' Little do they know that in about a year and a half, they're actually going to be removed."
Maria's time is almost up. She's due to be deported in June, and it is very hard to get the government to change its mind about a deportation.
She's an emotional wreck. She has two American-born sons who are citizens. She is expecting a third child in July. She has health insurance and a doctor in California, and has neither in Mexico, where she will likely give birth.
She's thinking of leaving her children in California - their father lives here. They are well aware of what's going on -- her older son, 11-year-old Ivan, often refuses to go to school. He thinks the police might be coming for his mother, and he wants to be home to protect her.
"It may not be fair, but unfortunately, that's the law," said Jorge Guzman, who fights immigration fraud at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
What happened to the people who allegedly defrauded Maria? Not much. The operators of La Guadalupana Immigration Services in Santa Ana, California, were charged with numerous counts of business fraud in state court in California, but the operators have disappeared. Authorities believe they left the country after ripping off 2,000 or more illegal immigrants.