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New bills could help protect immigrants from legal fraud

There is no doubt that an experienced immigration lawyer can be a huge asset to immigrants seeking a path to citizenship in the United States. However, there are also many con-artists, pretending to be trustworthy immigration lawyers, who are scamming innocent victims.

For that reason, Congress is currently considering bills that would better protect immigrants from phonies making false promises. Lawmakers say that the legal fraud could become more prevalent if Congress is able to pass immigration reform that offers options for naturalization to millions of immigrants.

A bill in the U.S. House of Representatives would assess a fine and up to 10 to 15 years in federal prison for people convicted of fraudulently offering immigration legal services. Additionally, as part of its comprehensive immigration reform bill, the Senate has already approved a section requiring people who assist immigrants with legal documents to identify themselves in the paperwork.

Currently, there is no federal law that specifically prohibits the unauthorized practice of immigration law, though people accused are sometimes prosecuted under other federal statutes. Even though the cases usually only involve the loss of a few hundred dollars, immigrant advocates say a specific law is needed to help protect people from being victimized.

In worst-case scenarios, immigrant advocates say the legal fraud can stand in the way of people realizing their immigration dreams and could even lead to deportation.

Many of these crooked non-lawyers advertise themselves as notarios, which is the Spanish word for notary public that also warrants the ability to practice law in Central America. However, in the United States, these individuals are not licensed to practice law and should be dealt with using caution, experts say.

If you are seeking legal immigration assistance, make sure that the person helping you is licensed to practice law in the state you are in. He or she should be willing and able to provide you with proof of this.

Source: Fox News Latino, "Congress May Go After Con Artists Who Offer Help In Immigration Cases," Sept. 3, 2013

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