Foster, Deutch Introduce Legislation To Protect Immigrants from Fraudulent Legal Representation
Washington, DC – Congressman Bill Foster (IL-11) and Congressman Ted Deutch (FL-21) have reintroduced the Protecting Immigrants from Legal Exploitation Act to shield immigrants from fraudulent and unethical legal representation. The legislation outlines specific penalties for “notarios” who intentionally mislead immigrants by providing fraudulent services. It also provides immigrants with the opportunity to resubmit application materials completed by fraudulent attorneys.
A copy of the legislation can be found here.
In many Latin American countries, “notario” or “notario público” refers to state-appointed lawyers, whose qualifications are equal to or may even exceed those of an attorney. In the United States, a notary public only has the authority to witness and certify legal documents, including taking affidavits or depositions. The linguistic discrepancy can expose many—especially recent immigrants of Latin American countries—to the risk of fraudulent legal services.
“With the implementation of President Obama’s executive actions on immigration at hand, it is critical that we work to combat notario fraud,” said Foster. “This legislation will help protect immigrants from exploitation from fraudulent ‘notarios’ who are taking advantage of our broken immigration system. Not only do ‘notarios’ exploit immigrants for money, but their false services can, and many times have, resulted in well-meaning immigrants being deported because they didn’t receive accurate information on the immigration process. We must do more to stop these predators who are exploiting immigrants attempting to play by the rules.”
“Notarios” or “immigration consultants” have become an increasingly serious problem in immigrant communities throughout the United States. Often using false advertising and fraudulent contracts, notarios claim to be qualified to help immigrants obtain lawful status, or perform legal functions such as drafting wills or other legal documents. Unethical notarios may charge a significant amount of money for help they never provide. Often, victims permanently lose opportunities to pursue legal status because a notario has damaged their case. This problem has become more prevalent in recent years, as many DREAMers begin to file for the DACA program.
Studies, such as one published in 2004 by the Harvard Latino Law Review, have reported that nearly 1 in 2 asylum seekers and 1 in 4 Mexican-American immigrant households have used fraudulent attorneys. Numbers may be even higher as many issues go unreported.
For those who create schemes to provide fraudulent immigration services, this legislation imposes a fine, a possible jail sentence of up to 10 years, or both. In addition, those who misrepresent themselves as an attorney in any matter related to federal immigration law will receive a fine, a prison sentence of up to 15 years, or both. In both cases, the fraudulent immigration service provider must also reimburse their client for any services they fraudulently provided.
The legislation also provides grant funding to disseminate information on avoiding fraudulent legal services and support non-profits that provide legal services to immigrants. A 2013 report from Georgetown Law School’s Community Justice Project reported that as high as 80% of non-citizens have unmet legal needs.