A Weapon Against Fraud

Immigration reform may have its days numbered during this legislative session. However, that apparently has not stopped certain unscrupulous people who are charging high fees and promising “legal help” to expedite a process that does not yet exist.

Offering and charging for services related to the reform before it is approved is strictly forbidden in California by a new law that Governor Jerry Brown signed last month, as part of a package of state measures that benefit undocumented immigrants.

AB 1159 also attempts to prevent a common type of fraud —that of notarios impersonating attorneys— by prohibiting the offering of services using the literal translation into Spanish of the English term “notary public.”

The majority of the law’s provisions won’t take effect until 2014. Nevertheless, its critics, like the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), think that it imposes too many restrictions on ethical, professional lawyers. The law also does not provide new resources to legally prosecute those who commit fraud.

In the immigration area, fraud is not new. For decades, those who are most unable to defend themselves have fallen victim to it. But turning to an attorney is often necessary because of the complexity of the laws—and not just when it comes to immigration.

In this case, like in others, the best weapon against fraud is information. As always, we urge everyone to be well informed about the legal services they obtain and who they get them from. And if you are a victim of fraud, it is urgent to report it to the authorities.

Those authorities, after all, are the ones who have the power—and the duty—to enforce the law and punish those who violate it. There is no point in reporting fraud if those who commit it are not prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.