Warning: do not use notaries to request deferred action!

The date is approaching when the federal government will begin accepting applications for the deferred action program, which will provide relief to hundreds of thousands of undocumented youth.

In my column this week in La OpiniónI write about the issue and explain to readers why they should seek appropriate legal help so as not to jeopardize their chances for this benefit.

While this is a very welcome time for many young people, it is also a period of vulnerability, in which unscrupulous people will try to take advantage of the enthusiasm and desire to obtain legal status to offer legal services, when they are not even authorized to do so. I am referring to notarios, immigration consultants, "paper fillers" and multi-services, many of whom operate illegally by promising "fast papers," connections to immigration agents who can facilitate their cases, or offer dubious legalization methods, sometimes requiring you to make false statements.

Beware! If you are being made these kinds of promises, you are being cheated. If you sign fraudulent documents or make false statements, the consequences are serious. You could permanently damage your chances of obtaining immigration status in this country and lose a lot of money, depending on how much you are being charged.

On the other hand, I do not recommend that you attempt to submit your requests for deferred action without consulting with an immigration attorney, or if you do not have the money, a non-profit organization that has representatives accredited by the federal government to provide advice and conduct immigration proceedings.

I know that many of the young people who will qualify for deferred action are smart, have college degrees, and think that by reading the requirements they will be able to do the process on their own, without help from anyone. That may be the case for some people, but not for most. Not all cases are the same.

U.S. immigration law is very complex and this new program has a long list of requirements that must be met in order to be eligible. It is important to know that the moment you submit an application and are not eligible for the benefit, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will have all of your data, with which they could eventually initiate deportation proceedings.

Your future in this country depends on doing things right and getting good legal counsel. Before hiring a lawyer or accredited representative, verify his or her credentials. Ask to see their current license. As an immigration attorney, I can assure you that being well informed and having good legal representation can make the difference between whether or not you can legally stay in this country.