US immigration ‘consultant’, an unlawful practice of the law

Via The News Today

L.M. (not a real name’s initials) is in the bind!

For two years since that exciting first day when she first came,
life has been an incessant emotional roller coaster ride for L.M. who,
like many other, has come to the US as a visitor but has decided to
stay in the country after the expiration of her visa. At least, that
was what she claimed to be the sequence of events although again, like
many others, L.M. has planned on staying in the US even
before she took the trip. Now, in retrospect, had L.M. been given a
chance to do it all over again, she would have done differently.
Because, thanks to the ‘Immigration Consultant’ that she has been
introduced to by the ’employer’ in Los Angeles who entered into contact
with her while still in the Philippines, now, two years and many
promises later, LM is really in the bind.

The arrangement made back in Manila seemed straightforward enough:
L.M. come to the US with a visitor visa. Upon landing she would go to
work in a small business. A ‘special deal’ was made with the ’employer’
for her labor. Then, through the ’employer’ L.M. recruited the service
of an “Immigration Consultant” who was to file a petition on her behalf
for the Labor Certification (*) that would get her that prized green
card. The fact that the ‘consultant’ signed a contract with and
received payment from L.M. instead of with the ’employer’ as the law
mandates, did not seem to bother anyone involved.

The Labor Certification filing, the necessary first step on the road
to a green card based on employment, was not properly done, it turned
out. Then, when the law changed in 2005, the petition did not get
resubmitted accordingly to the new law. For two years, every month,
L.M. religiously paid to the ‘Consultant’ the hundreds of dollars
toward a payment plan for her fees. All the while, she was not informed
as of the progress of her case (there was no case to begin with because
of the improper filing). Then, without proper counsel from her
‘Consultant’, L.M. moved to take another job with the assumption that
the immigration petition on her behalf was in progress, providing the
‘Consultant’ with the awaited excuse to terminate her services, two
years and several thousand of dollars later. L.M. is now out of status
and subject to be removed from the US from which she is barred from
returning for ten years.

During the current debate toward a comprehensive immigration reform
in the US, advocates for the need to combat against the unauthorized
practice of law (UPL) became increasingly vocal. The need here was to
provide the proper assistance to the undocumented aliens crowd that is
the least likely to report any abuse or frauds, because there is no
venue to do so without compromising their immigration status. Such
absence of venue of help makes them the ready victims of unscrupulous
‘consultants’ who, fearless of legal consequences, scammed those
victims off their meager but hard earned money. The list of abuses is
long. There are reports of threat of reprisal (by snitching to the
government), of unnecessary withholding of documents; of holding off
response to request of information, of incompetent and indiscreet staff
etc…

Most of the ‘consultants’ in question are from the same ethnic
background as their customers. This allows them to gain the client’s
confidence. L.M.’s ‘consultant’ is also from the Philippines. Most will
advertise that they only ‘consult’ and that they are not practicing the
law. However, the Code of Federal Regulation states that the practice
of the law includes the “selection and completion of the forms to seek an immigration benefit”.
Consultants like that of L.M. have committed the illegal act of
practicing the law without a license in the United States. In L.M.’s
case, the ‘Consultant’ in question may now be under scrutiny by the law
enforcement agencies for possible UPL criminal wrongdoing.

An immigration lawyer can help a prospective immigrant in more than
one ways: He/she can analyze the client’s case and, explain to her the
possibilities of benefit under the law and the legal process to obtain
such benefit. He or she can assist in petitioning on behalf of the
client and be her advocate when it came to speaking for her with the US
government agencies and if necessary, represent the client in a Court
of law. In LM’s case, her Labor Certification could have been properly
done had she been assisted by an American attorney, not only because of
the legal competency, but also by the code of ethics that bind the
profession. Surprisingly, such could have been much less costly,
financially speaking.

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