California Attorney General Kamala Harris is warning people who need legal advice about immigration to beware of con artists who may be operating scams in the wake of President Obama’s new immigration policy. Changes in immigration policy “often lead to con artists emerging to prey on vulnerable consumers seeking help with immigration services,” Harris said following Obama’s announcement last week.
“Using unauthorized immigration consultants can delay your application, cost you unnecessary fees and possibly lead to removal proceedings,” the state attorney general warned. Among other elements, the executive action announced by Obama on Nov. 20 will delay deportation for undocumented immigrants who have been in the United States for at least five years and are parents of citizens or legal residents.
The policy will allow such immigrants to apply to be protected from deportation and to seek authorization to work legally for three years at a time. The plan provides people in that category “an opportunity to come out of the shadows and work legally,” Obama said. The policy has not yet been implemented, however, and applications are not yet being accepted. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency, known as USCIS, currently states the policy is expected to be implemented in about six months.
Harris noted that people who want to apply can find updated information about availability of the program and eligibility criteria at a USCIS website at http://www.uscis.gov/immigrationaction.
The website has a Spanish version at http://www.uscis.gov/es/accionmigratoria.
Harris offered several tips for avoiding fraud: **Only attorneys can give legal advice about immigration matters. It is against the law for immigration consultants and notaries public to give legal advice. The type of assistance that immigration consultants are allowed to give “is very limited and may not be worth what they want to charge you,” Harris cautioned.
Immigration consultants can provide non-legal help such as translating an applicant’s answers to questions on immigration forms or obtaining copies of supporting documents. They cannot suggest answers for the forms or tell people which forms they need to file with federal immigration authorities. **Lawyers must be licensed.
To see whether a person is licensed to practice law in California, enter the person’s name on a State Bar of California website at http://members.calbar.ca.gov/fal/MemberSearch/QuickSearch.
“Walk away from an immigration attorney who is unlicensed. Do not be fooled; many dishonest consultants will claim to be lawyers,” Harris advises. **Immigration consultants are required to have an immigration consultants bond and must give a client a copy of the bond and bond number before providing services, the attorney general said.
To learn whether a consultant has a bond, contact the California secretary of state at (916) 653-4984 or look online at http://www.sos.ca.gov/cgi-bin/bond_search.cgi.
**In addition, Harris advises, “Do not pay for services that are likely free.”
The USCIS provides downloadable forms, a list of current filing fees, and processing time information for free at http://www.uscis.gov/forms.
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