I recently sat down to counsel with a family facing deportation as a result of legal advice given to them by what they described as an 'immigration consultant.' They relayed to me that when they first entered the U.S. a friend introduced them to an individual who claimed to have full command of immigration laws and procedures and that it would be a waste of time and money for them to hire an attorney.
This 'consultant' claimed that he could get the entire family work authorization and that would lead to a social security numbers and drivers license. It seemed too good to be true but the 'consultant' seemed intelligent and knowledgeable so they followed his advice. It was later revealed that this family friend and the 'consultant' were working together.
In addition to the advice, they were told that the fees were reasonable compared to an attorney and that the consultant, "could do the same work." This family met a couple of times with the consultant and followed his advice in filing some forms. They were never fully informed of their purpose but were assured that it was routine. They subsequently obtained their work authorization and it initially appeared they had made the right decision in hiring this consultant, that is, until they received a notice in the mail from the immigration court.
It turned out that the consultant had filed a false asylum claim for the family without their knowledge and years later they were now in deportation proceedings.
They faced deportation because they did not investigate the consultant, the advice he gave them and because they wanted their status in the U.S. at an inexpensive price. Now it could cost them everything.
Sadly, this is not the first time I have met with people harmed by relying on the advice of a non-attorney, nor will it be the last. Unfortunately, I will continue to meet with clients who have made similar mistakes hiring non-attorneys because they relied on the advice of well-meaning friends or because it seemed cheaper.
In the last decade California has welcomed an average of 200,000 immigrants a year joining an estimated 2 or 3 million non-documented residents. With such a large undocumented population certain unscrupulous individuals have made large sums of money by preying upon immigrants unfamiliar with our immigration laws. These con men include current and former lawyers, paralegals, 'notarios' and people with no legal experience at all.
They pass themselves off as consultants or lawyers; they take an immigrant's money and in exchange submit false or shoddy petitions to the Immigration Service. Initially, it may seem as if the process is going smoothly as receipt notices are returned to the client or the undocumented alien obtains work authorization. However, at some point the process catches up and just like that family the results can be devastating.
So, what can you do? There are some things you should know when seeking legal advice from someone you believe is not an attorney. California law regulates providers of non-legal services and therefore they must abide by certain rules. Immigration consultants may assist you in completing forms, translating material, obtaining and submitting necessary documents and finding legal aid. However, they are not lawyers and may not give legal advice.
Consultants must file a $50,000 bond with the California Secretary of State or be subject to criminal charges. You can request proof of this bond. Consultants must always use a written contract when making an agreement with you. Be careful of anyone asking for just cash. It is illegal for a consultant to use the term "Notario" or to misrepresent himself or herself as an attorney.
You can always ask an attorney for his bar number or card. You can verify whether an individual is in fact a licensed California attorney by contacting the State bar at 800-352-7034 or by going on line to CalBar.org. While on line you can also check if the attorney has a history of discipline.
Living in the U.S. is a blessing that impacts the very well being of your family for generations. Immigration to this country is one of the most important decisions you could ever make so why would you navigate its ocean of rules based upon the advice of a non-attorney or because you want to save money.
Seek the help of a qualified Immigration attorney, check out his background and arm yourself with the knowledge of immigration procedures and your rights. By doing this you can insure your place here in this country and avoid the tragedy that all too many have suffered by relying on the advice of a non-attorney.