ILRC Technical Assistance
The Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) provides assistance to agencies helping immigrants defrauded by immigration consultants. California Business and Profession Code § 22440 et seq. requires that anyone other than a lawyer preparing immigration forms:
- Post a $50,000 bond and provide all clients with written statement containing the consultant's name, address, telephone number, agent for service of process, and evidence of compliance with the bond requirement. Non-profit agencies charging low fees are exempt from the bonding requirement.
- Post signs indicating that:
- the consultant is not an attorney;
- that he or she may not accept a fee for referring the client;
- A statement of his/her full name and address
- Evidence of compliance with bonding requirement including the bond number.
- Return all documents to clients;
- Provide clients with written contracts specifying the work to be completed and the fees to be charged.
The statute prohibits certain activities by the consultant such as using misleading language, claiming special influence over the Immigration and Naturalization Service or making guarantees. Each violation of the statute is punishable by fines, criminal prosecution, and monetary damages. Many of the provisions impose strict liability making it easy for victims to prove their case.
Unfortunately, many victims do not sue consultants because they are unable to secure legal representation. Our goal is to help fraud victims use the small claims courts to sue fraudulent consultants for violations of the business and profession code provisions governing immigration consultants. To achieve this goal, the ILRC conducts the following activities:
The ILRC has produced a manual discussing the use of small claims court to enforce business and profession code provisions that mandate immigration consultants to post a bond and comply with other specified requirements. The manual is available in English and Spanish.
ILRC can assist agencies and small claims advisors on how to present a claim under the business and professions code sections covering immigration consultants. Please note that we are not able to assist the individual victims but only the agencies assisting them. Agencies with questions regarding the California Immigration Consultant statute can call the ILRC's Attorney of the Day line at 415-255-9499 extension 6263. Please make sure to mention that you are seeking advice on a consultant fraud issue.
Working with District Attorneys to Enforce the Bond Provision
Immigration consultants are required by California law to post a bond with the office of the California Secretary of State. Failure to comply can result in criminal prosecution. The bond serves as an identifiable source of money from which victims can seek restitution for violations of the immigration consultant code sections. Unfortunately, many consultants are not bonded and without fear of prosecution will continue to ignore the requirement.
The ILRC is working to persuade District Attorney offices throughout Northern California to contact immigration consultants and enforce the bond requirement. It is very useful to us to have local agencies participate in this outreach. We would appreciate assistance from agencies who are willing to write letters to the District Attorney Office, or are available to meet with the District Attorneys, or who can supply names of consultants in the area. If you are interested in this work, please contact Nora Privitera at the ILRC at 415-255-9499 extension 774, via fax (415-255-9792) or via email (nprivitera [at] ilrc.org" href="mailto:nprivitera [at] ilrc.org">nprivitera [at] ilrc.org).
How to Find Out if an Immigrant Consultant is Bonded
There are two ways to check whether an immigrant consultant has posted a surety bond to the secretary of state.
- By phone. Call the Secretary of State's Trademarks and Special Filings Agency at (916) 653-4984. The call will be answered by an official who can verify whether the consultant has posted a bond. You will need to give the official the name of the immigration consultant, the name of business, and, if possible, the surety bond number.
- By Internet. You can find out whether the immigration consultant has posted a surety bond by searching on the Secretary of State's website at: http://www.ss.ca.gov/business/sf/bond_search.htm
This page allows you to search by the consultant's name or business' name.
The Consumers Legal Remedies Act [Calif. Civ. Dede §§1780, 1781(a)] allows a consumer who "suffers any damage" as a result of the use or employment of a "method, act, or practice" made unlawful by the Act to bring a class action on behalf of himself and other consumers who are similarly situated.
Deceptive practices that apply to fraudulent immigration consultants include the following: misrepresentation of certification of services, misrepresentation that person or services has an affiliation which he does not have, advertising with intent not to supply reasonably expectable demand, and misrepresenting the authority of a representative to negotiate terms of a transaction with a consumer.
Where to Get Help if You've Been a Victim of Immigration Fraud
California State Attorney General's Office
The Attorney General's Office is the chief legal office for the State of California.
- Office of Immigrant Assistance:
The Attorney General's Office of Immigrant Assistance (OIA) sues fraudulent immigration providers to put them out of business. It also works on strengthening the laws that protect immigrant consumers, and publishes information on the legal rights of immigrant consumers in many different languages.
- To make a complaint about a fraudulent immigration consultant, to the Attorney General's Office, call the Office of Immigrant Assistance at 1-888-587-0557.
- For information on the legal rights of immigrant consumers under California Law, go to: http://caag.state.ca.us/immigrant/publications.htm
The district attorney's office in your county may be able to help you. (District attorneys in large counties have consumer protection sections that handle fraud cases.)
- To find the district attorney's office in your county, go to: http://www.cdaa.org/daroster.htm
How to Find a Private Lawyer
You may need a private lawyer to help you sue a fraudulent immigration consultant, so you can get your money back. Many lawyers will take a case on a contingency fee basis, which means they will collect their fees out of the money awarded to you by a court. You still have to pay costs, such as filing fees and mailing costs.
To find a private lawyer go to:
- California Courts Self-Help Center:
- Link to Low Cost Legal Help:
- Lawyer Referral Services: http://www.calbar.org/2con/referral.htm
Suing in Small Claims Court
[Small Claims Court is simpler and faster than suing through the regular court system. But the maximum amount of damages you can collect in Small Claims Court is $7500].
For Information on "How to Sue in Small Claims Court," go to:
- California Courts Self-Help Center, Small Claims Court:
- State Bar of California (pamphlet on how to use small claims court)
- Go to: www.calbar.ca.gov/
- Click on "Public Services" link
- Click on "Using the Small Claims Court" link (available in English & Spanish)