The danger of notaries and immigration consultants

In my column This week's Consulta Migratoria® highlights the dangers of going to notarios and immigration consultants and why I believe the Los Angeles City Council should not approve a municipal project that licenses them.

This is the column:

In Los Angeles, City Attorney Mike Feuer announced a new campaign to alert and inform the immigrant community on how to prevent being victims of fraud at the hands of notarios and immigration consultants, and called on people to report scammers and people who violate the law by giving advice and doing legal paperwork without a license.

I have witnessed the devastating impact of these people posing as immigration legal experts, when they are not, defrauding and defrauding thousands of dollars from people desperate to stay in the country legally.

Therefore, I congratulate all initiatives aimed at informing and protecting immigrants from unscrupulous people.

Prosecutor Feuer noted that at this time of great anxiety in the immigrant community, it is important to prevent the victimization of immigrants and to punish those who take advantage of immigrants' fear of deportation.

But during the press conference where he announced the DA's educational initiative, Prosecutor Feuer said that he supports a municipal project presented by councilors Nury Martínez and Gil Cedillo which proposes to create a system for registering and licensing notaries and immigration consultants.

On that, I strongly disagree. Creating a system that licenses notaries and immigration consultants is a mistake because it gives credibility to inexperienced people. It also causes confusion.

On the one hand, the District Attorney and city councilors emphasize that notarios and immigration consultants can NOT give any legal advice and reaffirm the dangers of going to these people. But on the other hand, they are suggesting to approve a municipal project to give them licenses to operate.

The argument of Councilmembers Martinez and Cedillo is that the municipal project, which has not yet been approved by the Los Angeles City Council, would allow the registration of these individuals and make it easier to monitor them.

But the reality is that there are already legal mechanisms in place at the state level for the registration, monitoring, investigation, and prosecution of notaries and immigration consultants. For example, there are already laws that criminalize the grand theft (grand theft), attempted grand theft (attempted grand theft), perjury(perjury), conspiracy (conspiracy), counterfeiting (forgery), lying in immigration proceedingsviolations of the Immigration Consultants Act and the illegal practice of law.

More laws are not needed. What is needed is enforcement of existing laws. The State of California and the City and County of Los Angeles should increase investigations and prosecutions of people who are practicing law without authorization and defrauding immigrants.

Periodically we have seen how the State of California and the City of Los Angeles have prosecuted individuals for violating laws for fraud, fraudulent misrepresentation and practicing law without a license.

Last year, following complaints from numerous victims, the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office filed charges against activist Gloria Saucedo, who was found guilty of practicing law without a license. To avoid going to trial, Saucedo signed a negotiated plea bargain agreement (plea agreement). A judge ordered him to reimburse thousands of dollars to his victims.

In late 2016, the California State Attorney's Office arrested Oswaldo Rafael Cabrera for defrauding immigrants and impersonating an attorney. After pleading guilty in February 2017, Cabrera was sentenced to five years and two months in prison for felony grand larceny, attempted perjury and for violating the Immigration Consultants Act.

Prosecutor Feuer warned that they will soon begin a trial against notary Eddie Bonilla for allegedly practicing law without a license.

But very few cases go to trial in a city that is considered the epicenter of notarios and immigration consultants who provide unlicensed immigration legal advice.

Instead of creating more laws that add to a legislative bureaucracy, more funding needs to be channeled to the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer Affairs and the Los Angeles City and County District Attorney's Offices so that they can conduct more investigations, enforce existing laws and prosecute any notario, immigration consultant or person illegally providing legal services to put an end to an epidemic that only hurts the most vulnerable people in our community.