How to report an immigration consultant

This week in my column in La Opinión I am answering a reader's question about a very important issue for the immigrant community: the improper use of immigration consultants for legal advice.

I went to an immigration consultant in Los Angeles who promised to help me fix my papers. I paid him thousands of dollars but in the end he didn't fix anything. I feel like he scammed me. How can I report him? -Cristina S.

In the United States, only a licensed attorney or a federally accredited representative can give legal advice and represent you in immigration courts or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offices.

An immigration consultant or notary public can NOT give you legal advice. If they do, they are violating the law. For example, an immigration consultant cannot interview you and then tell you what you have to do legally and what forms you have to fill out.

An immigration consultant can only fill out forms under the instruction of the person who hires him/her. He/she can also translate documents, provided he/she is qualified to do so, and assist you in finding a legal representative.

All immigration consultants must file a $50,000 bond with the California Secretary of State. Failure to do so will subject you to criminal charges. This bond is for the benefit of anyone harmed by fraud or other wrongful acts. You should ask to see proof of this bond. If the immigration consultant refuses to show it to you or does not have it, do not use his or her services. Find a licensed legal professional to help you.

Before performing any work, by law, immigration consultants must sign a contract with the client detailing all services to be performed and their total cost. This contract must be approved by the State of California. The law requires that the contract be written in English and your native language. You have the right to cancel the contract for any reason within three days and receive a full refund.

It is illegal for an immigration consultant to use the terms "notario" or "licenciado" or to impersonate an attorney.

If you were victimized by a notario or immigration consultant, 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.