LOS ANGELES – The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to license immigration consultants in an effort to crack down on unscrupulous non lawyers who charge exorbitant fees and victimize immigrant families.
Supervisors Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl called for an ordinance that would require licenses, set a maximum fee for preparing immigration forms and spell out penalties for doling out legal advice without a law degree.
At issue are consultants, often called notarios, who charge hundreds or even thousands of dollars while promising to resolve immigration issues.
“They prey on residents from China, from Mexico, from Armenia, from Ethiopia, from across the globe,” Solis said.
Unwitting residents end up “paying dollar after dollar without making any progress on their immigration problems,” Solis said.
California law allows non-lawyers to charge nominal fees to fill out immigration forms but bars them from giving legal advice.
“It’s very rare to find one not give legal advice and they very rarely charge nominal fees,” Alan Diamante of the Mexican American Bar Association told the board.
Diamante said the business was growing. Seminars charging $1,200 for training in immigration law pack rooms full of would-be notarios, according to the lawyer.
“Consumer affairs and the D.A.’s office are overwhelmed,” Diamante said.
Supervisor Michael Antonvich agreed that immigrant families are “being ripped off” and praised the ordinance as a way “to put light on a group of cockroaches” who pretend to be lawyers.
Kuehl said it amounted to theft.
“These fraudulent notarios are taking advantage of their hope and … stealing money from them,” Kuehl said.
Nancy Landa, a former student body president at Cal State Northridge who was deported to Mexico in 2009, spoke to the board via a video recording.
Landa was brought to the U.S. by her parents when she was 9 years old and said her family hired an immigration consultant to help file applications for asylum.
“We all ended up having deportation orders,” Landa said, urging the supervisors to look past their differences on immigration reform to solve the problem of notarios.
“It will go a long way in protecting families,” Landa said.
By the time immigrants realize they have been defrauded, they are often out of money to fund legal action or in fear of repercussions because of their immigration status, Solis told her colleagues.
“We have about 800,000 county residents eligible for citizenship and more than 50,000 eligible for DACA,” Solis said, citing a program that allows young adults who entered the country before the age of 16 to apply for a work permit and exemption from deportation. “Our immigrant families deserve to have their questions answered by legitimate legal service providers without getting scammed.”
The board directed county lawyers to draft an ordinance in the next 90 days.