California Provides Consumer Protection from Unscrupulous Immigration Attorneys and Consultants

Although there has been no progress on immigration reform in Congress and the chances of comprehensive reform passing before the end of the year are negligible, some immigration attorneys and consultants have collected advance fees for services related to future immigration reform.  In response, California Governor Jerry Brown signed immigration bill AB 1159 on October 5th, 2013.  The new legislation does the following:

  • Requires attorneys and immigration consultants to account for any money already collected for future immigration reform related services and either 1) refund the money, or 2) deposit the funds into a client trust account.
  • Requires attorneys to inform clients where and how to report complaints.  A notice for attorneys to use has been posted on the State Bar’s website and will be available in multiple languages.
  • Increases the amount of bond that a non-attorney, immigration consultant must carry from $50,000 to $100,000 effective July 1, 2014.
  • Prohibits the use of the term “notario,” (which is often misconstrued as someone who is qualified to provide legal advice).
  • Provides that a person who violates the ban on the use of the term “notario” is subject to a civil penalty up to $1,000 a day for each violation.

Only a licensed attorney is authorized to provide legal advice and services.  Non-attorney immigration consultants often advertise their services as a “notario.”  The terms “notario” or “notario publico” are particularly problematic in the United States due to cultural and linguistic barriers.  Consumers can be confused by this title because in many Latin American countries, “notarios” have legal training and can perform certain legal services.  In some communities, notaries public or others holding themselves out as “notarios” take advantage of this misunderstanding to charge for legal advice and services they are not legally allowed to offer, often defrauding consumers of large amounts of money in the process.  That is why, under this new law, immigration consultants can no longer use the term “notario” to advertise their services.

A notary public in California is only authorized to confirm the identity of a person signing a document or accept an acknowledgment from the signer that the information in the document being signed is true and correct.