“The Wrong Help Can Hurt”  is the recently unveiled national slogan adopted by USCIS and created by the Catholic Charities Archdiocese of San Antonio (CCAOSA) Immigration Department, a proud CLINIC member and the oldest BIA recognized agency in Texas. A partnership between myriad agencies, this campaign is designed to educate our communities about fraudulent immigration schemes and shut down these scam artists who are preying on the most vulnerable immigrants. CCAOSA is taking this campaign one step further by instructing clients to say “Show me YOUR papers” or “Muestreme TUS Papeles,” before ever allowing anyone to assist them with their immigration application.
Because the immigrant community is not always aware that there are only two groups who can legally provide immigration advice or assistance with immigration applications (licensed attorneys or BIA Accredited Representatives who work for BIA recognized agencies ) they often fall victim to “notarios” posing as immigration experts. The easy perpetrators to spot are those who rob immigrants of hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars with the assurance of an “inside” connection who will approve the application or who promise fast work permits and legal status.
Unfortunately, equally often, clients are being “assisted” with immigration applications by shelter staff, law enforcement officers, social workers, church volunteers and English language instructors. Even with the best of intentions and without charging a fee, these people are engaging in the unlicensed practice of law (UPL violation), incurring personal liability and potentially doing irreparable harm to the immigrant.
Immigration is an insanely complicated area of law and it is difficult to understand all of the subtle nuances in questions presented on an application. While having an attorney or BIA Accredited Representative cannot guarantee a positive outcome, it is the best way to reduce risks associated with this process and also allows for recourse in the event of egregious errors.
And so we are educating our community that it is OK to ask for credentials from the person purporting to be an immigration “expert” and it is OK to question whether a legitimate practitioner is experienced and skilled in the area of immigration pertaining to the individual needs of the client. The wrong help CAN hurt and we must remain vigilant in educating our communities about these violations and improving capacity of non-profit organizations to meet the ever-increasing need to assist these immigrants.
*Linda A. Brandmiller is the Director of Immigration Services, Catholic Charities Archdiocese of San Antonio.