Integrity Legal

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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