Immigration scams on the rise

In the state of California, only attorneys licensed to practice in state or federal courts can give you legal advice on immigration issues. Notarios, notary publics and immigration consultants may NOT represent you or give you legal advice. While in many other countries the word “Notario” means that the individual is an attorney, this is not true in the United States and they may not provide the same services that an attorney or accredited representative does.

  • Making false promises and implying he or she has special influence with the INS. Nobody can guarantee you a work permit or any other immigration benefit.
  • Posing as an immigration consultant or lawyer when he or she is not qualified to do so.
  • Taking a consumer’s money and not delivering any services.
  • Persuading a consumer to lie on an application or to an INS agent.
  • Keeping a consumer’s original documents and charging money to get the documents back.
  • Filing a frivolous application. For example, filing an application for political asylum on behalf of a consumer who does not qualify for asylum.
  • Charging the consumer a total price for all services up front, then demanding more and more money to continue doing work for the consumer.
  • If you have questions or would like to report a complaint, you can call the California Department of Justice Immigration Assistance Office at (888) 587-0557. For information on a lawyer, you can contact the California State Bar at (800) 843-9053.

Immigration Consultants

Before an individual can conduct business as an Immigration Consultant, they must first obtain a $50,000 bond and file a copy with the State of California through the Secretary of State’s Office along with the appropriate forms. A person must also pass a background check conducted by the Secretary of State’s Office.

To find out if an immigration consultant has filed appropriate paperwork and been bonded, you can contact the Secretary of State’s Office at (916) 653-4984 or check online at www.sos.ca.gov/business/sf/bond_search/. The United States Department of Justice also keeps a list of accredited representatives that can assist you in certain immigration proceedings at www.justice.gov/eoir/statspub/raroster.htm.

Are you working with an Immigration Lawyer or an Immigration Consultant?

The California Department of Justice has provided the following checklist for your use: (also available online at www.ag.ca.gov/consumers/general/immigration_ consultants.php)

  • Is the person offering legal services a lawyer licensed by the State Bar of California? The person must give you his or her State Bar number. Check with the State Bar. Ask if the lawyer has ever been disciplined.
  • Immigration consultants must have a $50,000 bond and provide you evidence of the bond. Keep the bond number for your records.
  • Check references. Talk to other people who have used the services of the immigration consultant or lawyer; check with reputable community groups. Don’t be fooled by fancy titles or documents hanging on the wall.
  • Get a written contract signed and dated by the immigration consultant or lawyer, but do not sign the contract unless you understand it.
  • Consult a person you trust before signing anything or paying any money. Be suspicious of anyone who wants you to act immediately.
  • Make sure the contract lists the services you were promised and how much you must pay.
  • The immigration consultant contract must be written in both English and your language.
  • You can cancel a contract with an immigration consultant and get a refund at any time. You have the right to a full refund within 72 hours of signing the contract. You must cancel the contract in writing.
  • Get a dated receipt showing what you paid for and how much you paid. Make sure the consultant or lawyer signs the receipt.
  • Keep a copy of the contract, receipt and forms being filed on your behalf. Take detailed notes and keep for your records.
  • Give only copies of original documents to the immigration consultant or lawyer. Keep your originals in a safe place.
  • Never sign any immigration document you do not understand. You could be committing a crime if you sign INS or other official documents that contain false statements. Ask someone to translate documents for you if you cannot read English.
  • An immigration consultant or lawyer should not file any documents with the INS if they are too complicated for you to understand or if you do not understand why you are filing the documents.