How to find low-cost legal help and report to notaries, consultants and attorneys

In my "Consulta Migratoria" column this week, published online by several impreMedia publications including LaOpinió, I answer questions from readers. Here I provide general answers to your questions. Each case is different, so you should consult an attorney for personalized legal advice.

Here is my column:

I am a low-income person and I need legal advice, where can I find low-cost help since I cannot afford a private attorney? -Juana G.

Juana, there are nonprofit organizations accredited by the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) that may be able to help you if you are eligible and show that you are low-income. These groups must have licensed attorneys or BIA-accredited representatives who are authorized to give legal advice. They must also charge a minimum fee to provide legal services.

An accredited representative is a person who has received certain training in immigration law in order to be able to counsel immigrants. These individuals are not attorneys and can only work for a non-profit organization that is duly authorized by the BIA.

If you decide to visit a nonprofit organization, ask to see its license to be sure it is authorized by the BIA to help you. Only accept legal advice from licensed attorneys or BIA-accredited representatives who work for a licensed nonprofit organization. Do not accept advice from a secretary, receptionist or paralegal.

Don't be shy to ask the person what kind of experience they have helping immigrants. I recommend that you only hire people who have extensive experience in immigration issues and are licensed to give legal advice.

You can find a list of accredited organizations or representatives on the following federal government website:

I live in California. I was a victim of a notary public who promised to fix my permanent residency. I paid him thousands of dollars to help me but he did nothing for me. How do I report this notary who defrauded me? -Rufino S.

Rufino, in the United States notary publics, immigration consultants, paper fillers or multi-services cannot give legal advice. If they do they can be severely penalized by law.

The only function of a notary in this country is to authenticate signatures and verify documents. An immigration consultant can only fill out forms under the instruction of the person who hires him/her. So please do not go to these people for legal advice.

If you have been victimized by a notario, immigration consultant, paper pusher or multiservicer, file a complaint as soon as possible with the police department. Also notify the California Department of Justice, Office of Immigrant Assistance at 1-888-587-0557.

To report immigration fraud, the following website has a list of resources by state: USCIS Government.

I have a licensed attorney in California who I have paid to help me petition for my husband. I have several legal questions for the attorney but when I call his office his secretary tells me he is not available and puts me through to the paralegal. Is there anything I can do to force the attorney to talk to me? -Carmen N.

Carmen, only the lawyer can answer your legal questions. If the lawyer lets his assistants give legal advice or unreasonably ignores his clients' calls, he is breaking the law and therefore may be sanctioned by the State Bar of California.

The law is clear. Only licensed attorneys, law students who are under the supervision of a licensed attorney, or a federally accredited representative may give legal advice. A paralegal, therefore, cannot advise you.

Call back and ask to speak to the lawyer. If the lawyer refuses to talk to you, you should call the State Bar of California at 1-800-843-9053 to file a complaint.

To report attorneys licensed in other states, the following website has a list of government agencies that discipline attorneys: