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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 04, 2011
Washington Attorney General announces 10 new immigration service cases

Legislation sought to reduce widespread abuse of ‘immigrant assistant’ title


SEATTLE  --  Across Washington, immigrants looking for the right to live and work legally in our state are unknowingly risking their futures. The Washington Attorney General’s Office announced 10 new settlements today with individuals accused of illegally practicing immigration law – a legal area so complicated that one wrong step can drastically delay citizenship or completely ruin a family’s chance to pursue the American dream.

 “Too many ‘immigration assistants,’ who have no legal training whatsoever, appear to offer a helping hand while reaching into immigrants’ wallets,” Attorney General Rob McKenna said.

The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division took enforcement action in four other cases last year and is currently investigating more than two dozen other immigration assistants out of concern that these individuals are engaged in the unauthorized practice of immigration law. 

The Attorney General is also tackling this issue on the legislative front.

“Abuse is so widespread that I believe the best solution is to repeal Washington’s outdated Immigration Assistant Practices Act and replace it with legislation that truly protects consumers from harm,” McKenna said. “The bill I’ve proposed this year ensures that only qualified individuals provide these important services.”

At the request of the Attorney General, state legislators are considering amending the Immigration Assistant Practices Act to allow only licensed attorneys and those authorized under federal law to assist consumers with immigration matters. Unlike other professional designations in Washington, the current law does not require that persons wishing to work as “immigration assistants” demonstrate that they have any training or experience in immigration matters.  

Substitute Senate Bill 5023, sponsored by Sen. Margarita Prentice, D-Seattle, passed out of the House Rules Committee on March 31 and is expected to receive a floor vote. If signed into law, SSB 5023 would be one of the strongest laws of its kind in the United States. The bill has support from many immigration attorneys and immigrant rights organizations, including the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and OneAmerica. Immigration attorneys around the state have also applauded the bill.

The Attorney General’s proposal would eliminate the “immigration assistant” designation from the current law and increase the availability of court remedies for those harmed by the activities of persons holding themselves out as having special skills in immigration law. The bill wouldn’t affect individuals, nonprofit organizations or law school clinics authorized to provide immigration-related services under federal law.

The law also aims to address the problem of immigrant assistants who take advantage of the linguistic similarities between the Spanish term “notario publico,” which in Mexico and some other Latin American countries means “attorney,” with the English term “notary public,” which implies no legal expertise whatsoever. Under the bill, persons who work as notaries public would be prohibited from marketing their services in a way that leads consumers to believe they have special skills in immigration law. 

McKenna praised Assistant Attorneys General Pedro Bernal and James Sugarman, as well as Investigator Renee Shadel, for their work on the most recent cases announced today:

CLALLAM COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT

  • Immigration Services of America (Joyce): The Attorney General’s Office said that a former border patrol agent provided legal advice to his customers about immigration matters, charged for legal services, failed to make required disclosures and failed to register with the state as an Immigration Assistant, as required under the law. He agreed to pay a $2,500 civil penalty and $2,500 to reimburse the state for attorneys’ fees and legal costs. An additional $17,500 in civil penalties is suspended provided he complies with the settlement terms.

CHELAN COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT

  • Irma’s (East Wenatchee): Owner Irma Oliver allegedly charged for legal services, failed to make required disclosures or provide contracts to her customers and failed to register with the state as an Immigration Assistant. She will pay a $1,850 civil penalty and nearly $4,000 to reimburse the state for attorneys’ fees and legal costs. An additional $5,650 in civil penalties is suspended, provided she complies with the settlement terms.

FRANKLIN COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT

  • Maricela Montelongo (Pasco): Montelongo allegedly provided legal advice, provided immigration assistance without registering with the state as an Immigration Assistant and misrepresented her qualifications. She must comply with strong injunctive provisions on her marketing practices or face $50,000 in civil penalties. She will also pay approximately $3,000 to reimburse the state for attorneys’ fees and legal costs.

KING COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT

  • First Legal Services/The Legal Helper (Seattle): The company, now out of business, allegedly advertised legal services and provided immigration and divorce services to primarily Vietnamese-speaking customers without complying with the Immigrant Assistance law. The Attorney General’s Office resolved the case with an Assurance of Discontinuance that requires the business to cease its unlawful activities and reimburse the state $1,500 for attorneys’ fees and legal costs.
  • Kim Nguyen & Associates (Seattle): The Attorney General’s Office alleges that the owner of this large-scale immigration assistance business provided legal advice to Vietnamese customers on naturalization petitions and failed to provide them with mandatory disclosures and contracts. She agreed to pay a $1,500 civil penalty and approximately $4,000 to reimburse the state for attorneys’ fees and legal costs. An additional $8,500 in civil penalties is suspended provided she complies with the settlement terms.

PIERCE COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT

  • Able Communications/Agencia la Morena (Tacoma): Greta Aitken allegedly drafted legal documents for customers, provided immigration assistance without registering with the state as an Immigration Assistant and failed to make mandatory statutory disclosures to her customers. The Attorney General’s Office resolved the case with an Assurance of Discontinuance that requires her to cease her unlawful activities and pay more than $6,000 to reimburse the state for attorneys’ fees and legal costs.
  • People Helpers and International Relations/American Assistance Service (Vancouver): James Phair allegedly provided immigration assistance but did not register with the state as an Immigration Assistant and failed to provide required disclosures to customers. The Attorney General’s Office believes he operated a website, in which he marketed assistance in obtaining fiancée visas and guaranteed a 100-percent success rate. He agreed to pay a $5,000 civil penalty and approximately $4,500 to reimburse the state for attorneys’ fees and legal costs. An additional $45,000 in civil penalties is suspended provided he complies with the settlement terms, which include strong restrictions on his marketing practices.

SNOHOMISH COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT

  • Servicentro Latino (Everett): Susana Toledo allegedly provided legal advice, did not register with the state as an Immigration Assistant and failed to provide mandatory contracts to her customers, as required under the law. She agreed to pay $2,500 in civil penalties approximately $3,000 to reimburse the state for attorneys’ fees and legal costs. An additional $7,500 in civil penalties is suspended provided she complies with the settlement terms.
  • Panamex Notaria Publica (Everett): Owner Juliana Perez allegedly provided legal advice, provided immigration assistance without registering with the state as an Immigration Assistant and failed to provide correct disclosures to customers. She agreed to pay a $1,500 civil penalty and to reimburse the state approximately $3,000 in attorneys’ fees and legal costs. An additional $8,500 in civil penalties is suspended provided she complies with the settlement terms.

YAKIMA COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT

  • Medical and Legal Interpreting Services (Yakima): Dolores Gaviglio allegedly made numerous misleading misrepresentations, failed to comply with the Immigration Assistant law and failed to provide mandatory contracts to her customers. She agreed to pay $1,000 in civil penalties and approximately $5,000 to reimburse the state for attorneys’ fees and legal costs. An additional $49,000 in civil penalties is suspended provided she complies with the settlement terms.


Media Contact: Kristin Alexander, Media Relations Manager, (206) 464-6432, kalexander@atg.wa.gov

 

 

 

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