The Misadventures of a Skokie “Immigration Consultant”
October 17, 2002

As long as there are sign-makers to manufacture signs, individuals are free to purchase their services, create a sign, and call themselves whatever they like. Whether it be a witch doctor, cat psychologist or immigration consultant, the sign purchaser tries to tell the public that he or she is selling a service or product of value, with the ultimate goal of generating as much cash flow for themselves as possible. And it is not the sign-maker’s job of ensuring that the person ordering the sign is in any way worthy of the title they seek to bestow on themselves.

As long as there are vulnerable and sometimes desperate undocumented aliens living and working in the U.S., there will be unscrupulous individuals seeking to take advantage of them. Some call themselves notarios, others immigration consultants. Either way, they seek to give the impression they know what they are doing, and that for a fee, they will put their knowledge to work for you – whether it be to secure a document authorizing their employment or to commence a process to facilitate visa issuance for a loved one overseas.

The problem is immigration consultants, or notarios (notary publics), have no official certification to prepare immigration-related documentation or to dispense advice. If something goes wrong, there is no license for them to lose. And only if the victimized party is brave enough to approach the police and lodge a fraud or “unauthorized practice of law” charge will the offending party face any consequences for their actions.

When immigration consultants give the wrong advice, sell a fantasy story or just plain take their victim’s money without advice or a story, the undocumented (or visa overstay) victim usually is afraid to complain. They do not want to complain to their family, probably because they are embarrassed about having been swindled. And for sure, they do not want to complain to the police since, in their mind, any law enforcement agency learning of their illegal alien status will certainly see to it they are deported.

Which takes me to the story of the immigration consultant in Skokie. She works in an office on a main street and leads people to believe she is affiliated with a licensed attorney, which may very well be the case. However, it is not the attorney that is doing the advising here. Instead, this consultant, who apparently is an attorney in her home country, (and proudly calls herself “attorney”) engages in the unauthorized practice of law, a state criminal offense. For a fee, she prepares forms, and files these forms with the INS – no problem. But she also dispenses advice, such as the song and dance she sold a recent victim (one of her own vulnerable countrymen) who appeared in my office crying last week. After taking a large sum of money, and preparing and filing an I-130 alien relative petition on behalf of her victim and the victim’s U.S. citizen mother, she told her victim that she would soon be entitled to an employment authorization document. She also told her victim that since she filed the case before some (fictitious) deadline date in 2002, that she need not fear being sent back to her country, although her visitor status in the U.S. had already expired.

In her quest to sell the fantasy and collect her fee, the consultant failed to tell her victim that immigrant visa availability for the Family 3rd preference (the victim was an adult married child of a U.S. citizen) is backed up more than 10 years. Yes, the I-130 alien relative petition may get approved by the INS’ Nebraska Service Center within a 1 to 2 year period, but a work permit or right to remain in the U.S. pending visa availability does not necessarily follow. Moreover, that filing date deadline was just a fiction, although it sounded dangerously close to a previous April 30, 2001 filing deadline which was actually, and truly in effect during the most recent incarnation of INA Section 245(i), an expired immigration provision that allowed many undocumented aliens a chance to commence a process to straighten out their immigration status.

As a service to the crying client, I called the consultant and asked her what in the world she was talking about when she sold her services and took her victim’s money. I also asked her where the affiliated attorney was when she, the consultant, dispensed the advice. As to the attorney, she practices out of state, but allows the consultant to share the office and represent to the public that they are somehow connected. As to the advice, she denied much of what my crying client accused her of, and tried to explain that she learned of the purported filing deadline from an article by another attorney in a another Filipino newspaper. Yeah, it was that other attorney’s fault, and that she, the consultant, should not be held responsible for merely passing on information. I myself have never seen the attorney article in question, but it would not surprise me if it contained information that is far different from what our consultant represented it to contain.

Here’s the problem. While attorneys can lose their licenses, and consequently their means of making a living, immigration consultants cannot. Whereas the State of Illinois’ Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission can strip an attorney of their right to call themselves an attorney, and practice law, no parallel agency exists to regulate immigration consultants, but for a local police department. Therefore the immigration consultant does not have, and does not need a license. And because their victim would sooner jump off a 20-story building before reporting the fraud perpetrated, the immigration consultant has no fear.

Here is my advice. When dealing with an immigration law matter, find a reputable attorney (make sure he/she is licensed) and schedule a confidential consultation. You may not even end up having to hire the attorney, and may very well be able to prepare and file the paperwork on your own. If the attorney’s opinion sounds far afield, seek a second opinion, especially if large sums of money are being requested. Again, the attorney has something to lose, the consultant does not.

Copyright © 2002-2008, By Law Offices of Richard Hanus, Chicago, Illinois