Immigration procedures are complex and most people are not completely familiar with all of them. This makes it important for migrants to obtain immigration legal counsel in order to successfully navigate these procedures. The advisors must be experts in immigration law, and they can be lawyers or representatives of accredited immigrant aid organizations. However, there are also dishonest people who take advantage of migrants in difficult situations—especially those in the process of establishing their immigration status—by posing as immigration legal counselors.
Therefore, if you are about to go through one of these procedures such as applying for a visa or permanent residence (green card), it is important that you seek reliable immigration legal counsel and be careful not to fall into the hands of scammers.
Who can provide legal advice?
The only people with the required knowledge on immigration issues and legal procedures are licensed attorneys endorsed by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA).
Other advisors, such as notaries public, can only help you fill out your forms or serve as document translators. However, most of them are not lawyers and are not accredited by the BIA, so they are not authorized to offer any kind of legal advice.
In Latin American countries, the term "notario público" has a different meaning, and they are always licensed lawyers. Unfortunately, many fraudsters take advantage of this confusion by making Latin American immigrants believe that they can provide immigration legal counsel.
It is important for you to be careful and avoid falling into the hands of these scammers.
Beware of scammers!
As we already mentioned, many scammers try to take advantage of immigrants. Proceed with caution if you need to find immigration legal counsel. We recommend that you consider the following tips to avoid falling for a scam:
1) If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is
No advisor will be able to change the law or the regulations for you to qualify for a visa. Don't believe someone who promises suspicious workarounds in exchange for large sums of money.
2) Check for BIA accreditation
If you decide to hire a notary public, ask them to show you their BIA accreditation documents or their certification from a bar association. Remember that many notaries public do not have a law degree, so they are not accredited to offer immigration legal counsel.
3) Keep an extensive written record
Insist on a written contract listing the services to be provided and their cost. If you feel that your English isn't good enough to understand the contract perfectly, ask for a translation to the language of your choosing. Before signing, read the contract carefully and consult with someone you trust.
4) Get a receipt for your payment
Make sure that you have a receipt so that you have proof of the payment that you made in exchange for the services.
5) Give them copies of your documents
Do not give your advisor your original legal documents. These should be kept in a safe place.
6) Read everything before you sign
Never sign something that you haven’t fully read and understood. Never sign a blank page or an incomplete document.
7) Report any scam
The Federal Trade Commission or the Attorney General will investigate any reports of potential scams.
Remember that it is important to always be aware of any irregularities. Immigrant scams are sadly quite common and they not only consist of fake legal advisors;these frauds can be started with a phone call, an email, and through websites, among other methods. You can find out more about how they work and how to protect yourself by clicking here.
Organizations that offer immigration legal counsel
Now that we have given you some tips on how to avoid potential scammers, we want to direct you to trusted organizations that provide legal counsel. A reliable option for Mexicans living in the United States is the Mexican Consular Network, which for several years has offered free legal advice to the community.
Fortunately, there are also many organizations that provide free or low-cost immigration support for people of all nationalities. Some are specialized in specific topics, such as:
- Immigration legal counsel to families and children detained at the border who must appear in immigration court.
- Legal representation in Immigration Court or Court of Appeals for those going through deportation proceedings.
- Assistance to DACA youth or individuals who are able to apply for deferred action.
We encourage you to check the list of free immigration legal counsel providers that the Department of Justice makes available. You can search for organizations in that list that have a presence in your city or state.
Another option is to go to the immigration clinics held by the law schools at some universities, where they offer free legal advice. Examples of universities with such clinics located in states that have a large migrant community are:
- Stanford Law School in California
- New York Law School in New York
- The University of Texas at Austin in Texas.
We hope that these tips have been useful for you to obtain reliable immigration legal counsel. We always seek to provide you with truthful and accurate information.