Sunday, June 13, 2004

Caribbean News details State Legislators Take A Crack At Immigrant Predators

Caribbean News details

A scene from last year’s Immigrant Freedom Ride.

ALBANY, N.Y., Mon. June 14: Unscrupulous immigration consultants who prey on unsuspecting immigrants seeking assistance could soon be required to post signs stating that they are not lawyers and are not authorized to practice law.

The bill, sponsored by State Senator Frank Padavan (R-C, Bellerose) and passed by the Senate last Wednesday, aims to regulate immigration assistance services and crack down on fraudulent practices. Legislators are now hoping Governor George Pataki would sign the bill into law and help protect immigrants from fraudsters.

"Immigration assistants provide needed services to those trying to navigate the labyrinth of federal regulations required for visa applications, green cards, citizenship and employment papers,” explained Senator Padavan. “However, some of these service providers are taking advantage of immigrants, who often are too intimidated to go to the authorities. Assisting immigrants is a thriving industry in certain areas, and one that for too long has been left unchecked."
The bill also specifically prohibits the unauthorized practice of law. This provision is in response to the growing number of immigration assistants passing themselves off as lawyers.
"If people need legal advice, they should seek out the services of an immigration attorney, and not an immigrant assistant," the senator added. "That's why an important component of this legislation expressly prohibits that practice of law by these individuals."

Under the law, immigration assistants can only: transcribe responses to government agencies; translate instructions and questions on forms; assist in obtaining supporting documents such as birth certificates; translate documents into other languages; refer clients to attorneys; arrange for medical testing, and if licensed as a Notary Public, notarize signatures on government agency forms.

The legislation has received support from the New York Immigration Coalition, a broad-based umbrella organization of immigrant advocacy groups and the Attorney General's office.

"I'm hopeful Governor Pataki will sign this bill into law, so that we can get a handle on what in certain areas of the state, my district included, is becoming a bigger problem with the proliferation of these types of businesses," Padavan added. "Immigration assistance service businesses are widespread and they aren't going to be stopped by not regulating or ignoring them."

Pataki has not announced his position on the bill, though he has shown interest in the issue, according to the New York Law Journal. In April, the governor announced an educational initiative aimed at raising awareness among immigrants of the dangers posed by dishonest consultants.

The bill was passed by the State Assembly last year.

But the New York County Lawyers Association, the American Immigration Lawyers Association and other lawyer groups are fiercely opposed to the bill. In their view, regulating immigration consultants would also legitimize them, rendering immigrants even more vulnerable to practitioners of questionable motivation and competence.

"The state bill offers no protection to immigrants," Eugene Glicksman, chairman of the County Lawyers immigration and nationality committee, told NYLJ. "Anybody can open up a storefront operation and put up a sign saying we're not lawyers. It requires no education, no background." –


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