How To Protect Yourself From Becoming A Victim Of Immigration Fraud
In anticipation of drastic immigration policy reform with the new Obama Administration, aliens who are present in the United States need to be more cautious than ever about seeking legal advice with immigration matters. Following is helpful information about immigration law, an individual's rights in receiving services, and practices individuals should employ when seeking assistance with one's immigration matters.
I. Who is allowed to represent you to the USCIS:
According to 8 CFR §292.1(a), a person entitled to representation may be represented by any of the following:
II. Beware Of Notarios:
In some Latin American countries, a notario or notario publico is a licensed lawyer. In the United States, A NOTARY PUBLIC IS NOT A LAWYER and cannot give legal advice or provide legal services. A United States notary public can administer oaths and witness signatures.
Many non-lawyers refer to themselves as notarios to prey on immigrants with limited English skills and little understanding of the American legal system. Many illegally practice immigration law without a license. They are able to take advantage of the fact that the English term notary and the Spanish term notario are similar in spelling, but very different in meaning.
In a common scam, a person obtains a notary public license but presents him- or herself to Spanish-speaking clients as a notario publico, or licensed attorney, who can help with the immigration process. A notario or a notario publico cannot give legal advice about immigration status, getting a work permit, getting family to the United States, or getting the right to stay in the United States. They cannot tell you what forms to use or what answers to put on the forms. Also, some notarios falsely claim that they have a close and special relationship with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), and can obtain special immigration favors for their clients or know of secret immigration laws.
Notarios often charge excessive fees for their services and mishandle or even lose important immigration documents. Many charge hundreds or thousands of dollars merely to process immigration applications. In many cases, these scam artists charge high fees for filing unnecessary documents, perform poor quality services that jeopardize clients' cases, and then disappear after receiving payment for their "services."
Their fraudulent practices put immigrants at risk because they lack real knowledge of immigration law. They charge fees to prepare applications for nonexistent immigration programs, or for existing programs for which the client does not qualify. Before you decide to get help with immigration matters, and before you pay any money, educate yourself so that you can make the right decision about what kind of immigration help you need and who should provide that assistance.
III. Unauthorized Practice of Law:
Notarios, notary publics and immigration consultants may NOT represent you before USCIS. They may not give you legal advice on what immigration benefit you may apply for or what to say in an immigration interview. These individuals may NOT hold themselves out as qualified in legal matters or in immigration and naturalization procedure and may only charge nominal (inexpensive) fees as regulated by state law. In many other countries, the word "notario" means that the individual is an attorney, but that is not true in the United States. Individuals seeking help with immigration questions should be very careful before paying money to non-attorneys.
Notary publics and immigration consultants MAY help you by filling in the blanks on pre-printed USCIS forms with information you provide or by translating documents. Individuals helping you in this way are required by law to disclose to USCIS their assistance by completing the section at the bottom of a petition or application concerning the "Preparer" of the formNotarios, immigration consultants, and paralegals who receive any remuneration (either directly or indirectly) for their assistance may not represent clients in U.S. immigration matters because they do not fall under any of the categories described in 8 CFR §292.1(a). State and provincial governments also consider these individuals to be engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. Many U.S. states have successfully prosecuted these individuals. In contrast, many Canadian provinces have a dismal record in prosecuting individuals who are engaged in the unauthorized practice of law.
IV. Preventative Measures:
The best recourse you have is to take steps to ensure you do not become a victim. Following are things you should do to protect yourself from persons who fraudulently portray themselves as immigration representatives.
If you think that you have been cheated by a notario, notario publico, or any other individual or entity, you should contact the USCIS, your State Attorney General's Office, your State's Bar Association and your State's Division of Consumer Affairs. If you cannot afford a private attorney, you may qualify for help from Legal Services or Legal Action organizations. To find out more about laws that protect you from notarios within your state, you can contact the American Bar Association or your State Attorney General's Office. Following are websites you can visit for more information:
End Notes1Examples of such websites are http://www.usimmigrationsupport.org/greencard.html which charges $50 - $100or more for forms that are availabe at no cost on the USCIS website, and http://www.immspec.com/
Sardar N. Durrani, Esq. practices exclusively in immigration law. He provides strategic counseling to corporations health care institutions, and individuals from a wide array of professions. He is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Mr. Durrani is married, has four beautiful kids and spends his free time flying.
The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.