Last month, The Times' editorial board wrote about AB 1159, a state bill aimed at protecting immigrants from unscrupulous lawyers who commit fraud.
The editorial noted that "immigrants have long been targeted by predatory lawyers and consultants who exploit their clients' lack of English and status as noncitizens, charging exorbitant fees and in some cases failing to do the work expected of them. With dramatic changes to immigration laws looming in Washington, some states are already anticipating an increase in scams and victims."
But the board felt that the bill was the wrong way to deal with immigration scammers because it added financial requirements, including increasing the malpractice insurance that attorneys would be required to carry. While some larger firms could absorb those fees as the cost of doing business, it would likely force solo practitioners to increase their fees. And that would likely increase the cost of legitimate legal representation and push more immigrants into the arms of notarios, who are not lawyers and who too often promise to provide legal assistance at discount rates but end up filing frivolous paperwork damaging to cases.
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Fortunately, state lawmakers opted to revise AB 1159. The latest version takes a narrower but more sensible approach. For example, it bars attorneys or anyone else from accepting payment for services related to an immigration reform bill that isn't even law yet. That makes sense given that cities with large immigrant populations already are reporting such scams.
Moreover, the latest iteration of the bill focuses far more on notarios. Latinos often mistake notarios for lawyers. The legislation requires anyone who advertises as a notario to note that they are not licensed to practice law.
The current bill merits support. It helps protect immigrants and provides prosecutors with additional tools to crackdown on immigration scammers.