Newsday highlighted yesterday New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s recent announcement of a crackdown on three NYC-area businesses charged with defrauding clients looking to resolve their immigration status.
The article is vague on this point, but I’m going to assume from the context and my experience that the three businesses are run by nonlawyer “notarios” who routinely abuse their positions of influence in immigrant communities to defraud newly arriving immigrants or those desperate enough to try anything to resolve their legal status.
Cuomo is right when he says the consequences of bad legal advice can rip families apart and destroy lives, but I wonder why it is that the authorities always seem to go after the “notarios” and other nonlawyers, when every low-income immigrant knows that immigration lawyers can be even worse than notarios. New York State has even set up a backchannel fund to compensate immigrants defrauded by attorneys in what looks to me like an effort to keep the “bad immigration attorney” stories out of the papers. Maybe I am missing something, maybe I don’t know the whole story, but that’s what it looked like to me on the ground during my two years of immigration practice at a Catholic nonprofit in Brooklyn.
There are some very competent, very dedicated immigration attorneys in New York and elsewhere who do good work for their clients. Many of these attorneys are members of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), the national immigration bar association. But lots of low-income immigrants are priced out of that market and have to settle for attorneys who exploit and manipulate them. When a client walks into an office and sees that law degree up on the wall, she says “I can trust this person.” That means unscrupulous lawyers can bilk unknowing immigrants out of far greater sums than can storefront notarios. I know this happens all the time because after the unscrupulous lawyer is done draining a client’s entire family of their savings (tens of thousands of dollars in some cases), the clients show up in desperation at nonprofit and faith-based community offices like the one where I work.
Read the rest of the article at http://theunapologeticmexican.org/elmachete/2009/08/22/preying-on-immigrants-in-need-chapter-79b/.
While you’re there, be sure to check out the rest of the posts at UMX.