Friday, January 23, 2009

Beware of fake immigration lawyers

The New York Times has posted an article about a Bronx man who had posed as an immigration lawyer for over 15 years, without having any law license. The man is charged with three counts of defrauding clients and faces up to 7 years in jail.

The article reminded me of a case I handled very early in my immigration career, in about 1997. A family came to my then law firm after paying thousands of dollars to a "notario" who promised to help them get permanent residence. The family had no legal basis for permanent residence, however the notario filed bogus asylum claims for them. These asylum applications had no foundation, so they were not surprisingly denied and the family ended up in deportation (as it was called then) proceedings instead.

This was a wonderful extended family, hard-working, involved in the community, active in their church and in volunteer work, and not wealthy. They had spent a lot of their savings on this notario, only to end up in a far worse situation than before they ever met her.

Unfortunately, this story is not uncommon. In some Latin American countries, "notarios" are licensed lawyers, so many people mistakenly believe that someone calling themselves a "notario" in the US is also a lawyer. As the American Bar Association states:
“Notarios” or “Immigration Consultants” have become an increasingly serious problem in immigrant communities. Notarios operate throughout the U.S. and use false advertising and fraudulent contracts for services which cannot be provided. Notarios present themselves as qualified to help immigrants obtain lawful immigration status, and may charge a lot of money for help that they never provide. Often, immigrants’ permanently lose opportunities to pursue immigration relief because a notario has damaged their case.
Various organizations actively advocate against notarios, and there are procedures in each state to register a complaint against a notario. This link contains information about the complaint procedure. The American Immigration Lawyers Association has published information leaflets for each state. Attached is a sample for Texas. Please contact us for information on other states.

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