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Apr 3, 2006
Consultants Ordered to Pay Millions for Unauthorized Practice of Law
- Atty. Michael Gurfinkel Email this article

Here’s another reason why people should be careful in dealing with or hiring so-called “immigration consultants”, rather than licensed attorneys.


According to newspaper accounts, a Texas-based immigration consultant, who charged unsuspecting clients up to $4,000 each, was ordered to pay $10 million in civil penalties and restitution for “misrepresenting her qualifications and authority to provide legal advice and immigration-related services.”


Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, in announcing the judgment against immigration consultant Yolanda Perez, said “This judgment sends a clear signal to unscrupulous immigration [consultants] that these scams will not be tolerated.” This should also serve as warning to people to be careful in dealing with these so-called immigration consultants.


The lawsuit filed by the Attorney General alleged that Perez charged clients for unauthorized legal advice, and illegally prepared immigration documents. (Only licensed attorneys can legally offer advice or instructions on preparing forms.)  Perez falsely told clients that she was a former employee of the then-Immigration and Naturalization Service INS), and maintained that she was affiliated with churches where she worked. She provided these services for four years under several names, including New Anointing/Nueva Uncion, Perez Immigration and Tax Service, and Greater Houston Family Outreach.


Perez charged each client initial fees of $300 to $400 for help with immigration visas, green cards and work or travel permits. The victims, including one man who paid up to $4,000 to Perez, soon found that they were subject to removal (deportation) from the United States because of errors in their submitted forms, or because they were ineligible for the benefits, in the first place. The man said he trusted Perez because she worked inside a church in Houston.


When a woman client complained that she and her daughter were in danger of being deported after paying the immigration consultant $3,100, Perez merely told her that their best option was to voluntarily leave the US.


For years, immigration authorities have warned aliens to be suspicious of people claiming “quick” solutions to their immigration problems. But thousands still fall victim to these sweet-talking “immigration experts” in their desire to legalize their status in what they thought was the easiest and least inexpensive way. In most cases, however, the unsuspecting clients lose their hard-earned money, their precious time, and worse, end up being deported.


Some people, when given the choice of doing things “right” or “right now”, choose the quick fix, even if they are not qualified for the benefit.  But there is only one way to legally obtain immigration benefits – by meeting and following all the requirements of the law.  And if consultants are breaking the law, how can you expect them to help you follow the law?


There are no “shortcuts” or quick fixes to legalizing your status in the United States. “Fast” green cards or “sure thing” processing are the first clues to disastrous and costly scams. Just follow the traditional norm to avoid a scam: “When it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t true.”


If you want to legalize your status in the United States, I suggest you go to a reputable attorney, who can help you evaluate your situation and find legitimate ways to obtain the immigration benefits available to you. Remember, the only way to legalize your status is to do it legally.  And only a licensed attorney can offer you legal advice, represent you in court, and “keep your secrets” under the attorney-client communications privilege.




Michael J. Gurfinkel has been an attorney for over 25 years, and is an active member of the State Bar of California and New York, as well as the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the Immigration Section of the Los Angeles County Bar Association.  He has always excelled in school:  Valedictorian in High School; Cum Laude at UCLA; and Law Degree Honors and academic scholar at Loyola Law School, which is one of the top law schools in California. 




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