SACRAMENTO–California State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) will introduced legislation to prevent payment for immigration reform services until federal immigration reform is enacted and to ensure other basic consumer protections are provided to immigrants pursuing a pathway to U.S. citizenship under the federal immigration reform act pending in Congress.
Assembly Bill 1159 (Gonzalez) would require that lawyers and consultants performing services under the pending federal immigration reform act abide by common sense business practices that will protect more than 2.5 million potentially eligible Californians from the unauthorized practice of law by non-lawyers, fraud, and unnecessary mistakes that could jeopardize a client’s pursuit of citizenship or – worse – result in deportation.
“As millions of California families face the historic opportunity of improving their lives by pursuing a pathway to citizenship, the state must be ready to ensure immigration services are performed by competent professionals and include anti-fraud protections,” Assemblywoman Gonzalez said. “AB 1159 prepares California for this upswing in demand by creating more accountability and transparency in an otherwise daunting process for immigrants, who are already targets of fraud now.”
AB 1159 will be considered today by the Senate Committee on Business, Professions and Economic Development. Assemblywoman Gonzalez has asked that the Legislature act with urgency – requiring a higher vote threshold – in order to crack down on the unscrupulous practice by some professionals to demand payment for immigration reform services based by promising that clients could “cut to the front of the line” when federal immigration reform is eventually enacted by paying now.
AB 1159’s goal of empowering immigrants during their pursuit of citizenship by:
Prohibiting The Use Of Term “Notario”: Expands current law to apply to “anyone who is not an attorney” from advertising as a “notario,” not just notaries public. This ban prevents confusion that has oftentimes been capitalized upon by non-attorneys hoping to present themselves as attorneys, as a “notario” in many Latin American nations is a type of lawyer. It will be unlawful to use any translated word that may imply that a person is an attorney, including the literal translation of the word “notario”.
Prohibiting Early Client Solicitation and Trust Account Requirement: The bill will make it illegal for attorneys or consultants to demand money from clients seeking immigration reform act services before the federal reform bill becomes law and is enacted. AB 1159 will also require immigration consultants to deposit into a client trust account all funds received from a client of immigration reform services prior to performing those services. Requires both consultants and attorneys to utilize a trust account when funds were collected during the window of time after this bill goes into effect but before federal immigration reform is enacted. These provisions clamp down on a fraudulent practice of advising clients on a law for which the exact regulations have not become law yet.
Requiring a Contract: Attorneys and consultants must provide a client with a written contract in the client’s language under AB 1159. Contracts must describe the services being performed for the client, the attorney’s or consultant’s compensation for the services, and where a client can report complaints for unsatisfactory or fraudulent performance of those immigration reform act services. This requirement is to provide transparency to what services a client would be paying for and, equally important, what is not provided for in the contract.
Additionally, non-attorneys performing immigration reform act services are required to itemize each service to be performed; an explanation of the purpose of each service; and the cost of preparing each document specified in the contract.
Requiring A Bond for Non-Attorneys: AB 1159 increases the required bond for consultants performing immigration reform act services from $50,000 to $100,000 to allow immigrants to recover damages related to immigration fraud.
AB 1159 has gained early support from the State Bar of California, labor groups, the faith community, and organizations dedicated to advocating for immigrant rights and equitable access to justice.