LA County supervisors move ahead on crackdown against immigration consultant fraud
Los Angeles County supervisors voted 5-0 Tuesday to have county officials draft an ordinance creating licensing requirements for immigration consultants, a move that's aimed at combating so-called "notario" fraud.
County legal counsel, consumer affairs and treasurer-tax collector departments will have 90 days to report back to the Board of Supervisors with a proposed ordinance to license the immigration consultants. It would require the consultants, including those who identify themselves as notarios or notaries, to comply with state law, which now prohibits them from dispensing legal advice or legal services.
Proponents say some immigration consultants violate the law when they provide legal advice. As a result,"immigration consultants and notarios compromise the integrity of the legal immigration system, often submitting fraudulent or improperly prepared applications to USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) or the immigration courts," according to the proposal voted on Tuesday.
Supervisors Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl authored the proposal. Solis said by phone Monday that immigrants who don't know English or are unfamiliar with the U.S. legal system are especially vulnerable to scams carried out by unscrupulous individuals.
“These people typically serve as immigration consultants, but many of them end up cheating many of our immigrants, and also taking away much of their hard-earned dollars," she said.
Solis said those who prey on immigrants can be from Latin America, Asia and elsewhere.
According to the proposal, immigration consultants who want to conduct business in L.A. county would have to obtain a license and pay a fee, she said. They would also have to prove they are in compliance with state law and their service charges would be capped.
Daniel Sharp, legal director of the Central American Resource Center in Los Angeles who worked with Solis and Kuehl on the proposal, said it is styled after a similar program in Chicago.
Sharp said Latino immigrants often fall victim to scammers because, in parts of Latin America, a notario is a trained legal professional while a notary public in the U.S. is not.
Victims can lose thousands of dollars and have their immigration cases bungled, he said.
"Individuals who have recently arrived in the U.S. seek the services of these businesses, believing they are receiving advice from a trained legal professional," Sharp said. "So the ordinance would also ensure that these businesses are taking steps to inform consumers of the non-legal nature of the services they are authorized to perform."
This story has been updated.