Avoid Immigration Scams:
The Difference Between a Lawyer and a Non-Lawyer For Your Immigration Case
Immigrants in the United States face many hardships. There are cultural, financial, and language barriers that can make life in the United States unappealing. Despite all these challenges, immigrants in the U.S. continue contributing to the country’s richness. Immigrants often overcome these challenges because they create close-knit communities that help each other through shared resources and experiences.
Still, immigrants looking for legal help often fall victim to immigration scams from people who take advantage of their inexperience with our legal system. They sometimes seek the help of immigration consultants or “notarios” instead of a licensed attorney. However, notarios and other representatives often commit “immigration service provider fraud” and other immigration scams.
Service provider fraud and immigration scams are widespread in many immigrant communities and the consequences can be severe. Some service providers may violate immigrants’ consumer rights by keeping their clients’ original documents or may charge large amounts of money for work that is never performed. In addition, some service providers file incorrect or inapplicable paperwork with USCIS (immigration agency), triggering interviews, investigations and often deportation proceedings.
HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF
You can protect yourself and your family members by understanding who are the “notarios” and their common immigration scams. Learn how a licensed attorney can help and is different from non-lawyers. We describe the most common types of immigration scams and service provider fraud below:
In certain Latino communities, fraud occurs because of a misunderstanding regarding the authority of a “notary public”, which translates to “notario publico” in Spanish. In many Latin American countries, a “notario” is a lawyer.
Notaries in the U.S. are not lawyers, they often rely on this misunderstanding to exploit immigrants and their families. Furthermore, they sometimes charge immigrants high application fees without ever submitting applications to USCIS. They can sometimes induce deportation by submitting applications for relief for which the immigrant is not eligible for or did not request.
The same can be true for paralegals. Paralegals are clerks who work for lawyers. They work under the supervision of a licensed attorney on different assignments. They are not lawyers and they cannot give legal advice. In many jurisdictions, paralegals are not allowed to offer their services independently. Under limited circumstances, they can offer some services independently, but they are never authorized to give legal advice or practice law. Only a licensed attorney can do that.
Real-Life Example: Pedro, a green card holder, saw a notario’s advertisement on TV and called him for advice on how to obtain a green card for his son. The notario advised him to file an adjustment of status application so that his son could get his green card in the United States. Unfortunately, the notario did not know and that Pedro’s son did not meet the legal requirements to adjust status in the United States and could not change his status here. He nevertheless charged Pedro $6,500 to file a frivolous application, which was ultimately denied. Pedro’s son is now in removal proceeding. He will have to wait 10 years before he can get an immigration benefit.
“CONSULTANTS” AND DECEPTIVE ADVERTISING
Language and cultural barriers make immigrants an easy target for deceptive advertising. Misleading advertising makes it difficult for immigrants to access accurate, reliable information. It also places immigrants at risk of immigration scams. Sometimes, providers send direct mail to immigrants that appear to be from a government entity or with misleading information that urging them to contact them for legal services.
Immigration lawyers and all lawyers must adhere to strict ethical rules involving advertising. Lawyers are generally not allowed to solicit potential clients directly. An immigration attorney that violates advertising rules can be disciplined.
Real-Life Example: ABC Consultants describe themselves as “immigration consultants and tax preparers.” They offer cheap tax preparation services and they have a small office in the back of a local supermarket frequented by many immigrants. They have a flyer outside their office that says: “work permits – guaranteed.” Jenny is in the United States and does not want to return home. She sees ABC Consulting and they tell her she can get a work permit and a green card – guaranteed. They file a frivolous asylum application on her behalf and some time later she gets a work permit. Jenny is happy until she has to go for an asylum interview. At the asylum interview, her application is denied and Jenny is placed into removal proceedings in Immigration Court.
“CONSULTANTS” WHO FAIL TO EXPLAIN THE RISKS TO CLIENTS
Many consultants or fraudulent representatives will give assurances that someone qualifies for a benefit without explaining the risks. They tell the immigrant that they are guaranteed to receive a green card or another desired result. Many times, these providers charge high fees and provide guarantees that are unethical and impossible to keep.
Real-Life Example: Maria is from Brazil. She is in the United States on an F1 student visa studying English. Maria makes an appointment with Gina, a non-lawyer who holds herself out as an immigration expert. Gina tells Maria that she can apply for an EB-2 National Interest Waiver visa and get a green card. It will cost Maria $25,000 but Gina guarantees results. If Maria is not approved, Gina will re-file her petition at no extra charge or return $15,000 to Maria. Maria thinks this is a great option since many of her friends trust Gina. One year later, Maria’s case is denied. She now has 30 days to leave the United States.
Unfortunately, Gina never told Maria about the risks nor provided a clear strategy for her case. Gina tells her that she can re-apply but will have to pay for the government fees because that was not included in the agreement. Maria decides to see a lawyer. The lawyer concludes that Maria is not a good candidate for the EB2 National Interest Waiver.
Maria did not realize that although she met the basic requirements for an EB2 National Interest Waiver visa, her case had many challenges. She was not an ideal candidate for this visa because she did not have the experience necessary to make a strong case. Gina did not fully discuss the requirement of this type of visa and the weaknesses of Maria’s case.
PEOPLE WHO MISREPRESENT THEIR CREDENTIALS
Unfortunately, some people claim to be experienced attorneys or wrongly suggest that they are authorized to appear before the immigration agencies or court. They take advantage of immigrants who will unknowingly pay high fees for their services. Since they lack real qualifications and skills, they often miss deadlines or file incorrect and incomplete forms, as well as false claims with the government. Immigrants who hire these individuals risk waiving their right to obtain legal residency. They may be unnecessarily deported or become subject to civil and or criminal liability for filing false claims.
A licensed attorney will share his or her licensing information with clients. Immigration attorneys also submit a Form G-28 with every immigration case they file. The immigration attorney attests to the accuracy of the information in everything they submit. Moreover, immigration attorneys are also liable to lawsuits if they commit malpractice. Notarios and other individuals do not file Form G-28. Their names are not on these applications or petitions. They are not subject to strict licensing and ethical requirements that real attorneys must abide by.
SCAMMERS SELL IMMIGRATION FORMS AND WITHHOLD CASE INFORMATION
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service website (USCIS) has all immigration forms available for free. Some businesses offer these forms for a charge to immigrants who do not know that these forms are free. They sometimes have official-looking websites that claim affiliation with USCIS or other government entities.
Another common type of immigration scam is a refusal to share documents and forms with clients. Immigrant clients have a right to their documents and the forms prepared on their behalf. Clients also have the right to receive government communications and their documents directly. Individuals should be wary of service providers who tell them that they cannot or will not receive communication directly from the government.
WHY HIRE A “REAL” LAWYER?
Many people believe that the immigration process is just about filling out forms. However, the immigration lawyer’s job is not just to fill out forms. It is much more than that. Immigration lawyers analyze a person’s specific situation and apply the law to help someone achieve a desired outcome. Lawyers must research applicable laws and make legal arguments to help their clients. They also use the law to protect a client’s rights against the government whenever the government violates those rights. In sum, a lawyer fights on your behalf with the law, our license, our skills, and education on our side.
WHAT TO EXPECT?
Lastly, immigrants should know that immigration lawyers cannot guarantee results. Guaranteeing a positive outcome is unethical. After all, the government ultimately decides the outcome in immigration cases.
Lawyers are generally required to continue their education to keep their law licenses. The law is constantly changing and good lawyers stay aware of changes that affect their clients. A lawyer who works on bettering him or herself contributes to their clients in meaningful ways. They also help make the legal profession better and more trustworthy.
If you have immigration questions, we encourage you to seek the help of a licensed immigration attorney for answers. Every case is unique and requires an experienced immigration lawyer who can analyze your case.
Click here if you would like to speak to us about your immigration case. We speak English, Spanish and Portuguese.