Who is authorized to help immigrants with their legal matters?
Only a licensed lawyer or accredited representative is authorized and qualified to assist you with your immigration case or green card application. Unlike consultants, immigration lawyers have completed extensive education and training before being licensed to represent clients. You can check whether an immigration lawyer is in good standing and licensed by contacting your state bar or state Supreme Court. You can also check to see if the immigration lawyer has been suspended or expelled from practice before the immigration court, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), or the immigration service (USCIS).
Accredited representatives (who are not licensed lawyers but can provide limited assistance in immigration matters) must work for a Recognized Organization and be authorized by the BIA. Only those recognized organizations appearing on this list are allowed to help with immigration matters. These organizations must either provide their services for free, or must only charge a nominal (small) fee for their services. Ask to see a copy of the decision from the BIA granting official recognition to the organization. Also, check the lists of currently and previously disciplined practitioners to see if the accredited representative has been expelled or suspended from practice before the immigration courts or immigration service.
It is against the law for notaries public to provide immigration advice–even filling out forms or a green card application is something that only a properly licensed immigration lawyer or accredited representative should do.
Lawyers from another country who are not licensed in the United States also are not authorized by law to provide immigration services within the United States.
Sometimes, a law student participating in a law school clinic, legal aid program, or through a non-profit organization may represent a person as described by regulation.
Who are “Notarios”?
Notarios are not lawyers. They also are not valid accredited representatives approved by the U.S. government. Often, they use the term “notario publico” to advertise their services in the Hispanic community. That title is not recognized in the United States as it is in some Latin American countries.
While many legitimate community and religious organizations provide immigration-related services, non-lawyers who advertise as legal “consultants” or “notarios publicos” are not authorized or qualified to help with immigration law-related matters.
These notarios often take advantage of people from their own ethnic community. Some attempt to provide legal service, but are not competent. Still others will take your money without ever intending to file your documents or help you in any way. Don’t let them harm you and your family!
Have you been harmed by a consultant or notario?
By promising too much–and knowing too little–notarios often destroy the dreams of immigrants. They promise low-cost, quick results for everything from citizenship to green card renewal, but often do not know immigration law. Even if they actually do the work they promise, such as file green card papers, they may do it incorrectly and cause permanent harm. In fact, many notarios are simply scam artists, taking their “client’s” trust–and money–without ever delivering results.
Protect Your Family’s Dreams
To avoid fraud, use your common sense. Many people hear what they want to hear–be smart! If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- Don’t believe it if someone tells you about a secret new immigration law or claims to have connections or special influence with any government office or agency
- Don’t pay money to someone to refer you to an immigration lawyer
- Walk away if an immigration lawyer doesn’t have a license
- Never sign an application that contains false information, and try not to sign blank forms. If you must sign a blank form, make sure you get a copy of the completed form and check to make sure all the information is correct before it is filed
- Always get proof that your papers have been filed–ask for a copy or government filing receipt whenever anything is submitted in your case
- Insist on a written contract that spells out all fees and expenses and make sure you receive a receipt, especially if you pay cash. If terms change, get a written explanation
- Don’t let anyone “find” you a sponsor or spouse to get you a green card–it’s illegal
Where and how can you take action against the consultant who harmed you?
If you believe you are a victim of a notario unlawfully practicing immigration law, visit our Where to Get Help Page for the proper agency to contact in your state. You can ask the government to take action against the notario who harmed you and your complaint can make a difference.
Because of the damage notarios and unqualified consultants practicing immigration law cause to the lives and families of immigrants, we are determined to do anything we can to stop this harm. This website is our latest effort to educate the public on the harmful and dishonest conduct of these predators. We are saddened by the heart-wrenching stories we hear when immigrants come to our members after the notario has destroyed any opportunity the immigrant had to receive a green card, stay in this country, and/or earn citizenship. Because our professional lives are dedicated to helping others, we simply cannot stand by and watch the damage being done by notarios.
How can you find qualified immigration assistance?
If you need help finding a qualified immigration lawyer in your area, you can contact the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) online at www.ailalawyer.com.
If you need help finding an accredited representative, click here for a list. Remember, an accredited representative works with a nonprofit community or religious organization and has been recognized as having the necessary skills and training to assist with immigration law matters. However, these individuals and organizations can only charge a small or nominal amount for their services.
Don’t be fooled! Many dishonest consultants will claim to be lawyers or accredited representatives. If you consult an immigration lawyer, make sure the immigration lawyer is licensed. If you work with an accredited representative, ask to see his or her accreditation with his or her current non-profit organization.
Don’t be afraid to consult an attorney! Many notarios actually charge more than attorneys to handle cases. It often costs nothing to talk to a lawyer about your personal situation. To find an attorney, ask friends, neighbors, or relatives who they might recommend.
Can’t afford an immigration lawyer?
Unfortunately, the government does not provide free lawyers in many immigration cases; generally, you must hire your own lawyer or represent yourself. However, there are some options for free legal services, including:
- Help for certain qualified individuals from an accredited nonprofit organization for a small fee or even free of charge
- Referrals for pro bono (free) immigration lawyers in some areas
- All lawyers are committed to providing a certain number of hours each year to work for free, although the demand for free (pro bono) services is often overwhelming. You may ask a lawyer if he or she is willing to accept your case pro bono.
Please note – Neither the Department of Homeland Security nor the Immigration Court can provide you with legal advice or representation.
What rights do clients have?
If you work with an immigration lawyer or accredited representative, you have certain rights. You have the right to:
- A written statement or contract, explaining the work the lawyer will do in your case and the fees he or she will charge for that work
- Be kept informed about your case status and what has been filed
- A complete copy of any forms or documents submitted in your case
- An accounting of your case, spelling out the total costs, as well as receipts for payments