Beware of Notarios and other Immigration Scams

August 19, 2011

handshake.jpgThe immigration Law Offices of J Craig Fong serves the entire Los Angeles area, including Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley, Long Beach, and indeed, clients all around the United States. We handle family visas, business and investor visas, and removal / deportation cases. Our attorneys frequently encounter people who come in and say that they have been working with an "immigration service" or "immigration consultant" or "notario" or "notary public" for the processing of their paperwork. In the vast majority of these cases, the results obtained by these so-called service-providers have been devastating.

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced a nationwide program to target non-attorney notaries and others who are advising and preparing paperwork for clients. The immigration system is complex, and although DHS often views attorneys as a hinderance to its work, DHS also understands that the only way an immigrant gets proper representation, a fair hearing, is through a competent, licensed attorney.

This is a difficult subject, because those of us at the Law Offices of J Craig Fong have met and seen the work of a few excellent, conscientious, knowledgeable notaries. However, to be frank, these are a great exception. In truth, notaries have no legal training and have no requirement to stay up-to-date in their knowledge. Attorneys do.

It is also true that not every attorney is going to be a good fit with every client: as you seek an immigration attorney, please ask yourself:

* Is this person a licensed attorney? If you're not sure, ask the state bar association.

* Does this lawyer have the experience to handle my case? Ask whether s/he has handled such a case before. Ask how long s/he has been licensed to practice. Some attorneys TEACH immigration law to other attorneys. This is a pretty good sign that the attorney has solid practical experience.

* Is this attorney listening to me? Some attorneys handle cases in mass quantities and do not make the effort to know you, your family, or your business.

* Is this attorney telling me what s/he is going to do? Some attorneys will just say, "it's ok, just leave it with me. I will take care of it." This is not good. You need to know what is being done by the attorney in your name. In the end, you are responsible for what the attorney files if you sign the papers.

* Is this attorney willing to explain things to me? Immigration law is a field of law where the client must understand what's going on; your future in this country depends on being knowledgeable. Does this attorney explain things to you clearly and in a way that you understand?

* Do I fundamentally trust this attorney? You are putting your family or business in the hands of this professional. Look him or her in the eye and ask yourself, "is this person honest, clear, and straight-forward?"

* Is this attorney a member of a reputable immigration law association? Merely being a member of any ole' professional organizations is not the key here; any lawyer can write a check to join an organization. However, some organizations require a minimum number of years in practice before an attorney can apply to be admitted to membership. It should raise a little bit of concern if your attorney is NOT a member of, or active with, any such organizations. The main professional organizations for immigration attorneys are the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and the Federal Bar Association (Immigration Section).

--jcf