Integrity Legal

Posts Tagged ‘unlicensed practice of law’

19th September 2010

This author has frequently discussed the myriad problems that Immigrants can face when dealing with an unlicensed American immigration “agent” or “specialist“. American law and Federal Regulations are clear regarding the issue of who is allowed to provide legal services in matters arising before the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) specifically; or any of the other agencies which are overseen by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Only licensed attorneys from the United States of America are able to provide consultations about US Immigration matters for a fee. Furthermore, only an attorney licensed by the Highest Court of least one US State, Commonwealth, or outlying territory is allowed charge fees to represent clients before DHS, including USCIS.

Unfortunately, there are some unauthorized organizations throughout the world claiming to be able to provide advice and assistance in American Immigration matters. The internet has proven to be a great tool for those wishing to research matters pertaining to United States Immigration. Meanwhile, it has also provided a platform for some operations which claim legal expertise without appropriate training or licensure. Such individuals and entities ought to be avoided at all costs since information transmitted to such individuals and entities may not be protected by the usual legal protections accorded to communications conveyed between an American attorney and their client. Furthermore, one who is not legally trained or not licensed to provide legal services in a given jurisdiction or about a particular subject cannot provide effective counsel nor lawful confidentiality to those seeking their assistance. This can be especially important to those conveying sensitive information about a case pending before an immigration tribunal, agency, US Embassy, or US Consulate abroad. Those engaged in the unauthorized practice of law in the aforementioned manner are thereby placing their own interests, as well as those of their unsuspecting “clients’”, in jeopardy.

When comparing the costs of legal service it is important to understand the pivotal role of licensure when making a decision to retain counsel. No licensed legal professional is likely to have a problem with prospective clients shopping for a reasonably priced service with a professional that they feel comfortable dealing with. In general, licensed American attorneys find that competition with other professionals makes for a healthy and prosperous business environment, but to compare the services of a licensed American immigration attorney with one who is not licensed to practice law creates a false comparison as US law is clear that those without licensure cannot provide the services which they claim they can provide in an immigration context. In short: one cannot compare a legal service with an illegal service from a price standpoint as an illegal service provider simply cannot provide such services at any price.

For further information please see: licensed lawyer. To learn more about US Immigration from Southeast Asia please see: US Immigration Law Thailand.

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30th August 2010

In previous posts on this blog, this author has discussed so-called visa companies and other organizations that claim to be licensed to provide legal services to immigrants and prospective immigrants. In a previous post, the New York Attorney General’s campaign to combat fraudulent immigration practitioners was discussed at length. It would appear that Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is still intent upon seeing that this type of activity is thwarted. To quote directly from a press release distributed by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA):

NEW YORK, NY (August 17, 2010) – Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the latest actions in his ongoing effort to combat scams that target New York’s immigrant communities. As part of his broad investigation into immigration fraud, Cuomo has shut down seven companies and sued two other organizations for providing fraudulent legal services to immigrants.

The following seven companies and their owners have been permanently barred from operating any immigration services businesses and must collectively pay $370,000 in damages to the State of New York: (1) Centro Santa Ana, Inc. and Ana Lucia Baquero, in Queens; (2) Margo’s Immigration Services and Margarita Davidov a/k/a Margo Davidov, in Queens; (3) Miguel Fittipaldi, J.D., Ltd. and Miguel Fittipaldi, in Manhattan; (4) Arthur C. Hurwitz, in Manhattan; (5) Oficina Legal Para
Hispanos, P.C. and Geoffrey S. Stewart, in Manhattan; (6) Asilos and Camilo Perdomo, in Queens; and (7) Mision Hispana, Inc. and Mayra Liz, in Queens.

The Attorney General began an investigation and issued subpoenas to these companies after receiving information that they were engaged in fraudulent and illegal business practices. The illegal conduct included, among other things, misrepresenting their authorization to submit documents on behalf of immigrants to the government and giving legal advice to immigrants. Further, some of these companies involved attorneys who aided others in the unauthorized practice of the law and simply lent their name to provide legitimacy to the business. Collectively, these companies abused hundreds of immigrants.

This author is pleased to see Attorney General Cuomo taking such a keen interest in an often overlooked problem plaguing the United States at large as well as immigrant communities in the USA. These immigrant groups are often targeted by unlicensed “visa agents” or “Immigration specialists” who prey upon uninformed consumers.

This can be a real problem outside of the United States as well. In Asia, there are many unlicensed practitioners who claim to be authorized to practice US law. When dealing with someone who claims to be US lawyer abroad it is always wise to ask for credentials in order to ascertain whether or not an individual really is qualified to provide legal advice on American immigration matters. An American attorney’s credentials can be proven by producing either a State of Federal license to practice law or a Bar Association membership card for a State or Federal Bar Association. Even after production of such documents consumers are well advised to check with the attorney’s licensing body in order to verify that the individual in question is a licensed practitioner.

For related information please see: US Attorney Bangkok

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13th March 2010

On many occasions, this author has discussed the issue of the unauthorized practice of law in the context of US Immigration. This problem has been significant in certain areas of the United States as well as abroad. Certain Immigrant groups are more susceptible to fraud than others as it can be difficult for some to decipher who is eligible to represent clients before the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) and other agencies under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security.

Recently, USCIS had a collaboration session to discuss the issue of unauthorized individuals practicing law. The following is a quote from a release promulgated by USCIS’s Office of Public Engagement:

“Scope of the Problem:

  • The unauthorized practice of law encompasses various activities, including:


  • Applying for benefits on behalf of an immigrant who is ineligible for those benefits


  • Misrepresentation of facts in documents submitted to USCIS


  • Accepting an applicant’s money without ever submitting any documents to USCIS (this is the hardest to track because USCIS has no record of the unauthorized practitioner or documents submitted on behalf of the applicant)


  • Other examples include unauthorized practitioners who claim to be able to obtain labor certifications for employers
  • Primarily a “local issue of national scale”


  • Many unauthorized practitioners promise to expedite cases, and then take an applicant’s money and disappear – applicants are willing to pay more to an unauthorized practitioner than they would to a private attorney because they may believe that notary publics can provide premium services (stems from a difference between the role of notary publics in the U.S. and other countries)


  • Some attorneys lend their names and bar numbers to UPL practices – these attorneys can be disciplined for failure to supervise, but there is nothing that can be done to the unauthorized practitioners


  • Unauthorized practitioners sell forms through their websites and conduct phone consultations


  • There are companies overseas that claim to provide assistance with the “green card lottery”


  • In recent years, there has been an increase in internet-based scams


  • Unauthorized practitioners include ex-government officials, including previous employees of INS, USCIS, DHS, and DOS


  • Unauthorized practitioners often threaten to report applicants to USCIS or ICE when they complain about fees or lack of service


  • Most serious threat is mom and pop shops that advertise with flyers and in local papers or through referrals and hand out business cards advertising themselves as notary publics or attorneys


  • Applicants have an incentive to protect unauthorized practitioners because once an unauthorized practitioner is caught, all cases are reopened


  • Some therapists working with U visa applicants assist clients with preparing/filing forms”

Unfortunately one of the worst consequences of hiring an unauthorized representative is that the applicant’s case may be reopened and scrutinized if it is found that they were assisted by someone without authorization to practice US Immigration law. US immigration lawyers routinely “clean up the mess” caused by those without the knowledge base or ethical standards required to represent clients in American Immigration proceedings.  For this reason, it is always prudent to ascertain at the outset if an individual is really entitled to practice law. This can be learned by asking to see a copy of the individual’s US license to practice law in the Supreme Court of one of the 50 states or a territory of the United States. A Bar Association Membership Card can also shed light on an individual’s credentials. In the case of non-profit entities, a copy of a document confirming the organization or individual’s accreditation by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) may also be used to prove an ability to represent people before the Department of Homeland Security.

For those seeking advice about US Immigration from Thailand please see: US Lawyer Thailand or US Visa Thailand.

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12th March 2010

This blog regularly discusses scam artists and fly by night operators who claim to be licensed US immigration lawyers, US “visa agents”, or “immigration consultants.” However, it was has been rare to see these people brought to justice. In recent months the New York State Attorney General has been increasingly putting pressure upon these types of operators. In a recent posting on the AILA (the American Immigration Lawyers Association) Leadership Blog the writer reports that the Attorney General’s efforts are finally bearing fruit:

“The latest victory in the fight against immigration fraud and victimization was announced by Cuomo’s office on March 1, 2010. The Attorney Generals’ Office has won a court judgment of more than $3 million against a “consultant” in Queens who has targeted and defrauded immigrants. In this case, the “consultant” routinely charged a retainer of $7,000 with fees often reaching up to $15,000 per person for the promise of permanent residence. The consultant wrongly claimed that she could get permanent resident status through alleged relationships with government officials. Of course, the services were never performed and the consultant routinely refused to give refunds or return documents.”

Refusals to provide refunds when appropriate, refusals to remit documentation, an inability to complete necessary tasks, and contentions of “special influence” are all hallmarks of these types of operators as most of these activities are either unethical or illegal. Those harmed in the matter discussed above at least have been granted some measure of recompense as the AILA Leadership Blog noted:

“As a result of Cuomo’s lawsuit, the New York Supreme Court has ordered the consultant to pay full restitution to 37 families who came forward and demonstrated that they were defrauded by this consultant. An additional $2.7 million in penalties was imposed for engaging in the unauthorized practice of law and misrepresentation of services that could be performed. The consultant is also permanently restricted directly and indirectly from engaging in the business of immigration-related services.”

Hopefully, this judgment will grant some relief to those detrimentally affected by this individual’s actions. In a final quote from the Blog:

“…New York City and State continues and serves as an example for all who are committed to fighting immigration fraud and the unauthorized practice of law.”

This author could not agree more adamantly. I applaud the efforts of Attorney General Cuomo as the unlicensed practice of law is a serious issue that can have very unfortunate consequences for the “clients” of those claiming to be attorneys. As always, if seeking legal advice about any matter make certain that the person providing the advice can produce a license to practice law in the jurisdiction where they are practicing. In the case of US Immigration law, an American attorney should be able to produce a Bar Card or license promulgated by the highest court in one of the 50 United States as defined in the US Immigration and Nationality Act.

For information about US Immigration attorneys in Thailand, please see: US Visa Thailand.

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