Often I am contacted by desperate immigrants about their immigration cases which have been harmed by so called “immigration consultants”, “notarios,” or “green card agencies.”
These people often operate in the shadows in immigrants’ home countries or in areas in the U.S. in which many immigrants live, they speak the immigrants’ language and offer “help” in applying for visa, green cards, asylum or any other immigration benefit.
Sadly, many immigrants either think these people are lawyers, or, even worse, they think that they can get legal services cheaper than from a lawyer.
Usually both assumptions are wrong: in many cases that I see, the clients paid more to the “notario” than I would have charged. And of course, in the end they pay much more, because the mess has to be fixed.
In the United States it is illegal for anyone to give immigration advice or to assist immigrants with applications unless the person is a licensed lawyer, or, is licensed by the USCIS to assist free of charge (usually consultants working for charities).
In some other countries, like Germany, sadly the law is not as strict. Some entrepreneurs have become pretty rich by offering “green card services” for a lot of money, but often their work is not up to par.
Today the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that someone who has been defrauded or otherwise harmed by such an unlicensed “consultant” cannot use the “ineffective counsel” argument, but, sometimes, might claim “exceptional circumstances.” The case was about a “consultant” who took a lot of money from the immigrant to file an asylum claim, but filed it 3 months after the filing deadline.
The immigrant was processed to be deported and the immigration judge declined to give her relief. The Appeals Board and the Appeals Court first agreed with the judge, but a rehearing in the Appeals Court now decided that the IJ should have checked, if the immigrant can claim “extraordinary circumstances.”
The moral of the story: to avoid such a hassle and the vast amount of money litigation will cost, go to a licensed lawyer in the first place. Do not trust “notarios, consultants or agencies.”