Fear is a powerful tool used to scam and take advantage of immigrants in the United States. Because the current climate around immigrants is growing increasingly hostile, fear creates an opportunity for unscrupulous con artists.
The impact is severe on the Latino community. As an immigration attorney and an immigrant, it pains me to see these people taking advantage of anxiety created by immigration fears, especially when Latinos swindle other Latinos. Over and over again, we hear stories from our clients about paralegals or notaries (notarios publicos) who charged them for legal advice and filled out the forms for them to sign. This type of fraud angers me the most. These are people’s lives at stake and a small mistake in the process could have catastrophic consequences for the client.
There is no substitute for a qualified attorney. Especially when it comes to immigration, it is crucial to find an experienced and trained immigration attorney. Here are three ways to prevent getting scammed.
1. Watch Out for “Notarios Publicos” and Paralegals Attempting to Practice Law
In Latin America, a “notario publico” is a professional authorized to practice law. A “notario publico” translated into English is a notary public; same name but vastly different professions. A paralegal or a notary offering to take your case is a major red flag. Attorneys and representatives accredited by the Board of Immigration Appeals are the only individuals authorized to give you legal advice regarding immigration
Answers on immigration forms carry legal consequences. It is unavoidable to provide legal advice when “helping” someone answer questions on forms. Besides, immigration law is not about filling out forms. Immigration law is about knowledge of procedures and regulations applicable in varying types of cases. If a paralegal, notary, or anyone else says they have authorization to do any of the above, they are ignorant or lying. Failing to see this scam could result in the rejection of your case, or ultimately, deportation.
2. Licensed Attorneys May Not be Immigration Attorneys or Specialists
Any licensed attorney is legally authorized to handle immigration law cases, but they may not have the experience necessary to handle such a different type of law in the past. One major aspect regarding immigration law is that a licensed attorney can practice immigration law anywhere in the United States. For all other aspects of the law, an attorney can only practice law in a state for which they hold a license.
An attorney licensed in New York, for example, may not take on a criminal case from Florida, but that same attorney may take on an immigration case from Florida. Be sure to find out what experience your attorney has with immigration practice. For over 18 years, Lim Law, P.A. has dedicated its practice exclusively to immigration law.
3. Guarantees of Services and Outcomes are a Sign of a Scam
Be careful of anyone who guarantees results or services. Every case is unique, and one different fact can be the difference between winning and losing your case. Some people claim they are legal professionals but are not licensed attorneys or accredited representatives.
When you hire an attorney, search for their Bar profile. In Florida, you can look up an attorney’s profile on the Florida Bar website.
Never sign a blank application or form. You must be sure you understand the process and what you are signing. If there is a mistake, it will not matter to immigration if your preparer made an error. At the end of the day, your name is the signature that matters. Be sure to ask your attorney to explain to you what you are signing and why.
What to Do If You Feel You Fell Victim to a Scam
Once USCIS receives your application, they will give you a receipt number. You can go to the uscis.gov website and enter the number into the “Case Status” box to see your application’s current status. If you do not have a receipt number, contact USCIS directly at 1-800-375-5283 or visit the Info Page here.
If you fear you are the victim of a scam, report this scam to the Federal Trade Commission at ftccomplaintassistant.gov. The page is also available in Spanish.
Our firm offers a free first consultation as a way to review your case and inform you of the options available. We want to make sure your case gets the time and detailed analysis it needs. If someone offers to take your case without understanding the details, you are likely talking to the wrong person.
Ask Henry Lim
Do you have a question for Henry Lim? During over 20 years of practicing law, he has helped more than 10,000 families with their immigration issues. You can ask Henry a question at firstname.lastname@example.org or submit a video question by sending a link to one of our channels. For legal assistance, email or call for an appointment: (407) 512-9919. Our first consultation is complimentary.