State law goes into effect this week to protect immigrants against immigration scams
OLYMPIA…A new Washington state law, protecting consumers from immigration-related fraud, went into effect Thursday, Oct. 20.
The recently enacted Immigration Services Fraud Prevention Act, requested by the Attorney General’s Office, prohibits anyone from engaging in the unauthorized practice of law in an immigration matter, unless that person is a licensed attorney or is otherwise authorized to provide legal services under federal immigration law.
Designed to protect consumers from deceptive business practices, the new law prohibits non-lawyers and unauthorized individuals from engaging in several other activities, such as:
• Selecting or assisting another in selecting an immigration-related government form;
• Advising another as to his or her answers on an immigration-related government form;
• Soliciting to prepare documents for another for submission in a judicial or administrative immigration proceeding;
• Charging a fee for referring another to a person licensed to practice law;
• Drafting or completing legal documents affecting the rights of another in an immigration matter;
• Referring oneself as an “immigration assistant,” “immigration consultant,” “immigration specialist,” or any other term in any language (including the Spanish term notario publico), that conveys or implies that the person possesses professional legal skills in the area of immigration law;
While the law does not prohibit the provision of translation services, the law does prohibit non-lawyers and other unauthorized persons from advising customers as to their answers on immigration forms.
As the new law goes into effect, the Attorney General’s Office warns consumers to be careful who they trust when it comes to immigrant assistance.
“In Washington and around the country, people advertising immigration services use the title notario publico on business cards and in their business dealings to deceive consumers into thinking that they have special legal training in immigration affairs,” said Attorney General Rob McKenna. “However, a notario publico is not a lawyer and is not authorized under state or federal law to provide you with legal assistance in your immigration case.”
In several Latin American countries, the term notario publico refers to an individual who has received extensive legal training over the course of several years.
In the United States, a “notary public” is an individual who has the authority to administer an oath or affirmation or witness the signing of papers. The title is relatively simple to obtain.
Many people use this linguistic accident to deceive Spanish-speaking customers into thinking that they are experts in immigration law. Don’t be deceived by a person described as a notario or notario publico. He or she is probably just a “notary public” with no legal skills whatsoever.
For more information about notarios and their illegal tactics, including information on how to spot a fraudulent immigration services provider, visit the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s website at www.stopnotariofraud.com.
• Federal Trade Commission education materials in English, Spanish, Chinese and Korean explain how to avoid and report immigration services fraud, and how to find legitimate no-cost or low-cost immigration advice from authorized providers. www.ftc.gov/immigration for more information or to report scams.
• UCSIS provides materials in English and 13 other languages at www.uscis.gov/avoidscams. Resources are also available at www.uscis.gov/citizenship.
• Free information for immigrants and refugees can be found online at www.washingtonlawhelp.org.