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It's About Darn Time!
By: Maria M. Odom
Part 1 of a multi-part series on the unauthorized practice of law.
Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the launch of the Federal campaign against the unauthorized practice of law. An unprecedented, multi-agency effort, the campaign brings powerful players together from the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security and the Federal Trade Commission. As I listened to the leadership from USCIS, ICE, EOIR, DOJ’s Civil Division, and the FTC explain their plans for collaboration to fight unauthorized “practitioners” who harm immigrants, I couldn’t help but think: “it’s about darn time!” This initiative is set upon three pillars—enforcement, education and continued collaboration. It is designed to stop scams that victimize immigrants by offering not just unlawful legal advice and services, but by crushing their dreams and, often, possibilities for a certain future in the U.S. for themselves and their families. It is also designed to educate immigrants about the profiteers in their communities who feed their hopes by offering a “sure path” to a “greencard,” to a work permit, to obtaining asylum protection, or to bringing a loved one from abroad “the fast and easy way.”
As I watched the government officials show their sharp teeth and, finally, offer a concerted plan for the prosecution of this often elusive criminal element, I remembered many of my former clients and the harm they suffered at the hands of unauthorized practitioners or those we most commonly refer to as “notarios.” I remembered the events in Ellijay, Georgia, and the notario who singlehandedly tricked an entire community of Guatemalan Kanjobal Indians into filing applications for asylum. For years, private attorneys in Atlanta faced the task of representing hundreds, and I mean hundreds, of these humble, wide-eyed, confused individuals as they found themselves before an immigration judge in removal proceedings. Yes, a notario convinced these quiet and resilient people that she could get all of them work permits in less than 120 days. That’s right, she promised work permits and she falsified asylum applications and made them sign those applications without explaining to them what they were signing or the dire consequences of filing a frivolous application for asylum. A trusting people who speak an ancient Mayan language, Kanjubal, they found themselves hopeful and excited at the prospect of having a work permit – the ticket to a better job and the ability to take better care of their families.
But to their surprise, they did not get work permits. Instead, they were scheduled for asylum interviews, which they failed because, of course, they told the truth and while they had fled poverty and prejudice, they did not suffer persecution. After the failed interviews they were scheduled for court, which they attended because they are honest people seeking to do the right thing. Many were ordered deported or ordered to depart the United States voluntarily because there was no relief against deportation available to them.
In that case, the system did not provide an adequate path to the prosecution of that notario. She was arrested but never sent to jail – and her victims lost everything.
At CLINIC we support a network of charitable organizations serving low income and the most vulnerable of immigrants. We support the lawful practice of immigration law by licensed attorneys and by individuals working for recognized charitable agencies accredited to practice immigration law by the Board of Immigration Appeals. If you or someone you know has been a victim of an unauthorized “practitioner” please file a complaint on the FTC’s website. To find an authorized charitable immigration legal services program in your area please visit the CLINIC website at: http://cliniclegal.org/about-us/affiliate-directory. Be a part of the solution because IT IS ABOUT DARN TIME!
*Ms. Odom is the Executive Director of CLINIC
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