Recently, there have been news reports about immigration attorneys and notary publics taking advantage of immigrants and refugees who are in desperate situations. The Trump administration has taken several actions to tighten the borders of the United States. That has caused a lot of turmoil in industries that are heavily dependent on immigrant employees. Because of the changes, there is a higher likelihood that businesses or employees will fall victim to the fraudulent acts of attorneys, notary publics, or imposters.
A vulnerable population
Many immigrants are eager to achieve legal status and end up spending their life savings on an immigration attorney. In some instances, not only do immigrants not get help, but they also find out that their immigration attorney took their money without performing any of the services promised. What’s worse, sometimes the “immigration attorneys” are not attorneys at all!
A common scenario is that the immigration attorney is actually an attorney practicing law in a different state than the one he is licensed in. Although attorneys are generally required to be licensed in the state where they practice law, the requirements for immigration law are different. For instance, an attorney licensed in any state can practice immigration law, even if she is not licensed in the state where she practices. However, when an attorney is not licensed in the state where she practices, the state bar is unable to hold her accountable. That makes it easy for attorneys to take advantage of laypeople, particularly those who speak only their native language. That happened to more than 50 former clients of Prince Uchechi Nwakanma, a Houston immigration attorney who allegedly took $140,000 in fees and offered no legal work in return.
Another type of fraud occurs when a notary public presents himself as an attorney and tells the victim he will represent her in court. That most often happens to people from certain Latin American countries where notary publics have considerably more legal authority than they do in the United States. Although the literal Spanish translation of notary public is notario publico, there are significant differences in what those titles authorize a person to do. Generally, in the United States, a notary public verifies the identity of a person who attests to the authenticity of a document. In Latin America, a notario publico is an attorney in many ways.
That happened to Mario de la Rosa, a Mexican immigrant seeking asylum. He waited in the parking lot for Margaret Carrasco, the immigration attorney who was supposed to represent him in his hearing, but she never arrived. Rosa thought Carrasco was an attorney, and he paid her for her services. In reality, she was only a notary public, and her license had expired. Carrasco was later prosecuted for her misrepresentation, and Rosa was granted a rehearing. But not everyone is so lucky.
Some immigrants are left in a situation that is even worse: with no life savings and no immigration relief. By then, many have become untrusting of the system and don’t report incidents of fraud to the authorities. When you add out-of-state attorneys and the state bar’s inability to discipline them to the mix, immigrants are even less likely to jump through hoops to report fraud to the proper authorities. Even though some states have passed laws to prevent fraudulent acts, the laws do not create consequences for imposters or out-of-state attorneys.
Employers dealing with an immigration matter should ensure that the person helping them is a reputable licensed immigration attorney with valid credentials. All of your employees presumably have legal status, but they may have family members or friends who need legal services. For that reason, familiarize yourself with local immigration attorneys, and be able to make recommendations to your employees.
Jacob M. Monty is the managing partner of Monty & Ramirez, LLP, and practices at the intersection of immigration and labor law. He can be reached at jmonty@ montyramirezlaw.com or 281-493-5529.