Fraud and misconduct by attorneys and unlicensed legal providers, including non-attorneys using the title notario, are unfortunately prevalent in the field of immigration law, particularly during these turbulent times of family separations and immigration raids.
However, even in the most desperate times, it is important that individuals take careful precautions in finding competent and trustworthy assistance. Here are some practical tips to protect yourself and your loved ones from immigration fraud and attorney misconduct when you are considering hiring an immigration attorney or consultant:
- Ask for the attorney’s full name, the state where they are licensed, and license number so that you can look them up. If they are licensed in California, their license information and disciplinary history can be found on the State Bar website (www.calbar.ca.gov ). Also be sure to read their Yelp, Avvo and other reviews online. Keep in mind that because immigration law is federal law, attorneys can be licensed in a different state from the where they are practicing.
- It is illegal in the State of California to hold your self out as a “Notario” or “Notario Publico.”
- Immigration consultants cannot give legal advice or represent you in immigration court. Immigration consultants are only permitted to fill out forms, translate documents, obtain and submit documents, and assist you in finding legal representation.
- In California, immigration consultants are required by law to register and file a $100,000 bond with the Secretary of State. Therefore, be sure to confirm an immigration consultant’s registration and bond online or call 916-653-3984.
- Always ask for a contract in writing that specifies the scope of services, terms of payment, fees and costs. The contract should be in English and in your native language. If you change your mind within 72 hours, you can cancel the contract and get all your money back. You can also cancel your contract at any time after the initial 72 hours. Make sure you cancel the contract in writing. Also, do not sign a contract you do not understand.
- Always request copies of any documents or filings submitted on your behalf. Although a professional may offer their services the work product belongs to you. Therefore, you have a right to request copies of these documents even if you are no longer a client.
- Never leave your original documents (passports, birth and marriage certificates, etc.) at a lawyer’s or consultant’s office.
- Never sign a blank document. Review all forms prepared for you with a translator, if necessary, before you sign any documents. Make sure all information is accurate and true.
- All immigration forms can be obtained free online at www.uscis.gov/forms. Never pay for a blank form.
- Beware of those who require full, immediate payment before any services are performed – the typical arrangement would be a deposit due to begin working on the case with the remainder due once the matter is ready to be filed.
- Be wary of cash only payments. Ask for a receipt for every payment made, especially if it is made in cash.
- You have the right to request a refund for any money not earned by an attorney for work already performed.
If you believe that you have been a victim of someone who is practicing immigration law without a license, you can file an Unauthorized Practice of Law Complaint with the State Bar of California at no charge. You can also file grievances against licensed attorneys who you feel may have performed misconduct using the Attorney Misconduct Complaint Form on the State Bar of California website. The State Bar of California will never ask you about your citizenship or immigration status. More information can be found on the State Bar of California website.
Additionally, the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR, commonly referred to as Immigration Court) encourages consumers to report suspected attorney misconduct in immigration court proceedings, which may include any of the following:
- Failing to act with reasonable diligence and promptness while representing a client;
- Engaging in frivolous behavior in a proceeding before immigration court or the BIA, including taking action to cause unnecessary delay;
- Attempting to coerce, by any means whatsoever, any person, including an immigration judge, to commit any act or to refrain from performing any act in connection with any case;
- Engaging in rude, insulting, or obnoxious conduct which would constitute contempt of court in a judicial proceeding;
- Repeatedly failing to appear for pre-hearing conferences, scheduled hearings, or other case-related meetings in a timely manner without good cause;
- Failing to disclose to the immigration judge or BIA legal authority in the controlling jurisdiction known to be adverse to the client and not disclosed by opposing counsel; and
- Repeatedly filing notices, motions, briefs, or claims that reflect little or no attention to the specific factual or legal issues applicable to a client’s case, but rather rely on boilerplate language indicative of a substantial failure to competently and diligently represent the client.
Complaints for suspected attorney misconduct can be lodged with the EOIR Fraud and Abuse Program via EOIR Form‑44, Immigration Practitioner/Organization Complaint Form, telephone at 1-877-388-3840, or by email to EOIR.Attorney.Discipline@usdoj.gov.
U.S. Immigration Law Group, LLP encourages all immigrants and their families to remain educated, equipped and empowered when making the important decision of hiring someone to handle an immigration case. All of our attorneys are licensed and in good standing in the State of California. Please check out our website or reviews on AVVO and Yelp.