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Amid fears of mass deportation of immigrants, State Bar warns of potential legal fraud

Protestors rally outside of immigration offices in Sacramento to keep families together

Protestors rally to keep families together at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Sacramento on Tuesday, June 19, 2018.
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Protestors rally to keep families together at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Sacramento on Tuesday, June 19, 2018.

If you’re looking for legal representation, make sure you’re not being scammed, the State Bar of California warns.

The State Bar issued a news release Wednesday warning immigrants of potential legal fraud amid fears of mass family deportation.

In June, President Donald Trump announced that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement would commence a large-scale deportation of undocumented immigrants in major cities around the country starting the morning of June 23.

A day before the raids were set to begin, Trump postponed them by two weeks, leading some to speculate whether they would happen at all, but he said at a news conference last week they would begin “sometime after July 4,” CNN reported.

Since the initial announcement, immigration rights advocates and organizations have started mass public information campaigns on what legal rights people have in the event of an ICE raid – including the right to hire a lawyer.

“Everyone in California deserves access to legal services, no matter their immigration status,” Melanie Lawrence, interim chief trial counsel of the State Bar of California, said in the news release. “Recent federal warnings about mass deportations undoubtedly have escalated fear and alarm in immigrant communities, and this climate increases the potential that the unscrupulous will be trying to take advantage of those most vulnerable and in need.”

Citizenship is not required to file a State Bar complaint for unauthorized practice of law, and the State Bar will not ask about immigration status when a complaint is filed, according to the news release. The online complaint form is available in English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Russian.

From December 2018 to April 2019, the number of complaints related to unauthorized law practitioners and immigration issues nearly doubled, according to the State Bar.

Immigration consultants can help fill out paperwork, translate documents and submit forms to government agencies, but they cannot give legal advice, select what forms are needed or represent anyone in immigration court.

The State Bar also provides a list of low-cost or pro bono legal service providers for immigrants and asylum seekers as well as certified lawyer referral services by county.

The State Bar recommends the following steps to prevent being taken advantage by someone not licensed to practice law:

Ask for the attorney’s full name and State Bar number.

Before hiring the attorney or paying any sum of money, look up the attorney on the State Bar website (www.calbar.ca.gov), or the state in which they are licensed, to see if their license is active and whether they have any history of discipline. You can also call the State Bar at 800-843-9053.

Check the State Bar’s cease and desist list, which warns non-attorneys that certain of their practices may violate the law, and the federal list of those not authorized to practice immigration law.

Be wary of non-attorneys who call themselves notarios; they are not authorized in California to provide legal advice.

Get your contract in writing as well as receipts for payments you make.

Be wary if someone requires cash payments. If you must pay in cash, be sure to have a written receipt.

Be wary of those who threaten to report your immigration status if you do not pay them immediately.

Keep a paper trail. If you don’t have a bank account, use a cashier’s check. If you’ve already made a payment, you are entitled to ask for an accounting of your bills.

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Jaimie Ding, from Scripps College, is a local news reporter for The Sacramento Bee with an interest in politics and international relations. She grew up in Vancouver, Washington.
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