Thursday, January 17, 2002
Lawsuits Allege Several Immigration Consulting Agencies Acted as Attorneys
By NICK YULICO, Staff Writer
A nonprofit group has sued immigration consulting agencies that allegedly engaged in the unauthorized practice of law or violated laws governing the services such agencies can offer.
Citizens Against the Unauthorized Practice of Law, a newly formed non-profit group to be based in Ventura, has no phone number yet, but their Alhambra attorney, Wei C. Wong, has been busy filing lawsuits against allegedly fraudulent agencies, with two on Monday, two on Tuesday and eight more currently in settlement stages or soon to be served.
One suit filed Tuesday against New American Immigration Service Corporation, located in Alhambra, alleges the agency charged customers for attorney referrals, offered legal advice as non-attorneys, and failed to post the proper signage stating the employees were consultants and not attorneys, all illegal practices under the California Business and Professions code.
Immigration consultants can help clients fill out immigration forms or translate them, but they cannot select forms or give advice on how to answer questions on forms
According to the complaint, NAISC, who has no attorneys on staff according to owner Jin Gou, allegedly told a private investigator sent by Wong that it would take approximately 15 years to obtain an immigrant visa and then told him it would be faster to marry a U.S. citizen, which would cost $1,000 per person.
This is a clear example of legal advice provided illegally by a non-attorney, Wong said.
The complaint also alleges the agency’s Chinese-language website imuslaw.com advertises having “many white immigration attorneys to represent you.”
Beside the advertisement being somewhat comical, Wong said, this clearly is illegal, since the agency has no attorneys on staff.
Guo told MetNews that he had not referred clients to attorneys for a fee.
Another issue at stake in the suit filed Tuesday against Ramirez Immigration Services in downtown Los Angeles is the matter of surety bonds.
All immigration consultants, who are not attorneys, must secure a $50,000 surety bond and file the bond number with the secretary of state. State law provides the bond to be used, for example, for consumers seeking restitution after being cheated out of money by agencies taking consumers’ monies and then closing shop.
Guo’s agency has the bond, but according to the lawsuit filed against Ramirez and the bond listings on the secretary of state website, Ramirez’ bond has expired.
Robert Ochoa, owner of Ramirez Immigration Services, told the MetNews he did have a bond and would have the number if called back in five minutes.
When the MetNews called back, an answering machine was on the other line.
Ramirez Immigration also allegedly charged clients attorney referral fees and offered legal advice without being attorneys, the complaint says.
Wong, a former chairman of the Southern California Chinese Lawyers Association, said his organization is filling an important role.
“The district attorney and attorney general can only do so much,” Wong said. “We pick up the gap.”
Cases of unauthorized practice of law and violations of the laws governing immigration consultants are a concern to the attorney general’s office, Sandra Michioku, spokesperson for State Attorney General Bill Lockyer, said.
Lockyer recently obtained preliminary injunctions against two major unscrupulous Los Angeles immigration consultants—Immigration Solution Center and Immigration World Wide Services.
However, the attorney general’s office and the local district attorneys can’t find all the fraudulent immigration consulting agencies, Wong said.
Michioku echoed this concern and cited the efforts of the attorney general’s office to better educate consumers on the laws governing these practices.
The efforts of Citizens Against the Unauthorized Practice of Law are definitely a step towards empowering local communities to help end these violations, Michioku said.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company