Utah civic and government leaders have pledged to crack down on fraudulent practices that prey on people seeking help with their immigration status, and such a campaign certainly should be waged. But it must also be recognized that government itself is complicit in letting this problem fester.

Immigration officials say an illicit cottage industry has evolved to take advantage of vulnerable would-be citizens who are desperate to find some clarity in their quest to attain legal status. But their desperation is fueled in large part by the fact that the immigration process is a morass of confusing and inconsistent rules and procedures that leave many who are caught in its labyrinth with no clear exit.

Arresting and prosecuting those who would defraud such people is a proper use of law enforcement resources, but it is essentially a battle against the symptoms of a disease, not its cause.

Comprehensive immigration reform is stalled in Congress, and in the vacuum created by federal inaction, scam artists are finding fertile ground. Authorities recently arrested a man accused of charging people thousands of dollars to help them navigate the immigration process while actually providing no services in exchange for the money.

The 20 or so victims of this man’s crimes were easy targets. They were trying to work their way through the process, but were frustrated by delays and confusion. The immigration bureaucracy moves slowly. Its rules are complex and arcane, and it’s understandable that those stuck in its muddle would pay large fees to someone who convinces them of an illusive inside track on expediting their case.

To take advantage of people in such straits is reprehensible, and the fraudsters should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. But the fact that such predators so easily can find their victims is itself a loud statement about the operational integrity of the immigration system as a whole.

In reaction to the recent case in Utah, authorities have pledged to step up efforts to better inform the immigrant population of legitimate avenues for advice and assistance. The U.S. Citizen and Immigration Service deserves credit for significant improvement in recent years in providing such assistance to those under its purview, but the surfeit of fraud cases is proof that more can be done.

The ideal scenario is the adoption of a meaningful reform package that would include a better-structured and more transparent process for attaining and retaining legal status. That may or may not happen soon given the deck of political cards currently in play. In the meantime, authorities should do what they can to shield those in the system from the unscrupulous scavengers who peddle a shallow promise of hope.