January 13, 2011
OLYMPIA—State Rep. Phyllis Gutiérrez Kenney is determined to stop common forms of immigration fraud that are ruining the lives of Latino immigrants and their families.
Kenney today proposed a law requested by state Attorney General Rob McKenna that seeks to protect immigrants from non-lawyers who provide fraudulent legal advice as “immigration assistants.”
“Heartless profiteers are exploiting and defrauding immigrant families in ways that are turning the American dream into nightmares,” said Kenney (D-Seattle). “They must be stopped.”
According to the Attorney General’s office, “con artists in Western and Eastern Washington are charging unsuspecting clients extortionate fees for services they are not qualified to complete,” and this deceit “has caused many Latino immigrants thousands of dollars, their jobs and the chance to live legally in the U.S.”
The fraud often exploits a common misunderstanding involving the words “notary public.” A notary public is only authorized to administer oaths and witness signatures. But in many Latin American nations, a “notario” is an attorney and con artists are using the notary public label to pretend they are qualified to give legal advice.
In one Wenatchee case cited by the Attorney General’s office, undocumented immigrants who wanted help to obtain permanent legal residence were given false legal advice by a non-lawyer that actually triggered deportation for 150 individuals.
The measure introduced today (HB 1146) would end the misleading designation of “immigration assistant” and prohibit non-lawyers from engaging in a number of specific practices that only licensed attorney’s are qualified to provide. The measure would also bar deceptive advertising of legal services by non-lawyers.
Courts could issue minimum fines of $1,000 per violation of the act.
“Too many people who want to do the right thing are seeing their lives ruined and their families hurt because they trusted people who masquerade as licensed attorneys,” Kenney said. “The sooner we end this abuse, the safer people will be.
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