Q: I plan to file an application for legal permanent residence in the US. A friend of mine said I should go to somebody she knows, who supposedly would help me with all the paperwork for much less than an immigration lawyer would charge. Does this make sense?
A: No, it does not. Incompetence and fraud in the provision of assistance in immigration cases are a big problem, and you need to be on your guard against them.
Often we at the Irish International Immigrant Center see people at our legal clinics who have paid non-lawyer so-called “experts” or “consultants” (including “Notarios,” who are not allowed to provide legal advice) to help them with immigration applications, only to receive incorrect advice. It also is common for people to search the Internet for assistance with their cases, only to receive outdated or false information. Often it is too late for us to help them, as they have missed crucial deadlines to file paperwork with the immigration authorities or to appeal adverse decisions. And sometimes they never were eligible to receive a particular immigration benefit in the first place, and by relying on incompetent advice to the contrary they have rendered themselves vulnerable to removal from the US.
Outright fraudulent immigration assistance also is a major problem. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the US Justice Department frequently initiate prosecutions against “consultants,” “Notarios,” and even lawyers for filing immigration applications based on false information. The government regularly announces felony indictments in cases involving schemes to obtain immigration benefits fraudulently. Defendants convicted in such cases could be sentenced to up to five years in federal prison and large fines on each count. Needless to say, the immigrants involved are not going to receive the benefits they applied for; instead, they most likely will be subject to deportation if not criminal prosecution.
The solution is to make sure that you consult with someone who is professionally qualified to help you. If you come to one of our legal clinics, you will be able to have a free, confidential consultation about your situation with a fully qualified immigration lawyer or a representative accredited by the Board of Immigration Appeals in the US Department of Justice. IIIC legal staff members are able to assist with the filing and processing of many types of applications. If your case is more complex (involving court proceedings or appeals, for example) and you need to be represented by a lawyer in the New England area, we can refer you to a reputable person whose work is well known to us. We also can make referrals to lawyers specializing in other fields such as criminal, employment, and domestic relations law.
If you need an immigration lawyer in another part of the country, you should make sure that he or she is a member of the professional association in this field, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). You can find an AILA member anywhere in the US by checking with www.ailalawyer.com and entering your location. You also can contact the state bar to determine whether a particular lawyer is in good standing.
It is extremely important to stop incompetent or dishonest people from preying on immigrants. In Massachusetts, you can file a complaint about such people with the Attorney General: Office of the Attorney General, Consumer Complaint and Information Section, One Ashburton Place, Boston, MA02108-1698.
There is a form for such complaints; it may be obtained at http://www.mass.gov/Cago/docs/Consumer/consumercomplaintform.pdf, or by calling (617) 727-8400. Other states will have similar procedures; you can learn about them by searching the Internet for the sites of the various state Attorneys General.
Disclaimer: These articles are published to inform generally, not to advise in individual cases. Areas of law are rapidly changing. US Citizenship and Immigration Services and the US Department of State regularly amend regulations and alter processing and filing procedures. For legal advice seek the assistance of an IIIC immigration specialist or an immigration attorney.
Irish International Immigrant Center
100 Franklin Street, Boston, MA 02110
Telephone (617) 542-7654 Fax (617) 542-7655
Web site: www.iiicenter.org Email: immigration@iiicenter.org
An organization accredited by the US Department of Justice