Moving to crack down on scam artists, Los Angeles County supervisors voted Tuesday to require immigration consultants working in unincorporated areas of the county to be licensed.
The consultants, sometimes referred to as "notarios," are not attorneys. But some offer legal services and charge high rates.
Because notary publics in Latin America are roughly equivalent to lawyers, immigrants often do not realize that in the United States they are only authorized to witness signatures and authenticate documents, said Supervisor Hilda Solis, who proposed the enforcement program along with Supervisor
"I've spoken with numerous families who have been for years paying dollar after dollar without making any progress on their immigration matters," Solis said. "When these families finally understand that they have been defrauded, it is often too late for them to make a report about it."
That was the case for Nancy Landa Hernandez, who was born in Mexico and brought to the United States illegally at age 9 by her mother. She graduated with honors from Cal State Northridge before she was deported in 2009.
Hernandez, who spoke to the Board of Supervisors by video from Mexico, said her parents had gone to an immigration consultant who filed applications for asylum and other benefits for which her family was not eligible. Ultimately, Hernandez, her parents and brother were deported.
"Con artists should not be able to prey on immigrant families like mine," she said. "Those who commit fraud and practice law without a license should not be able to remain in business for decades while people like myself pay the consequences."
Daniel Huang, chairman of the immigration section of the Los Angeles County Bar Assn., told the supervisors that fraudulent operations also have sprung up targeting Asian immigrant communities.
"In the San Gabriel Valley, we're now seeing legal services being offered through birthing centers, educational consultants, travel agencies and even dubious political and religious organizations," he said.
On a unanimous vote, the supervisors authorized the drafting of an ordinance that would set up a licensing program for consultants operating in unincorporated county areas such as East Los Angeles that are not governed by cities. Among other things, the regulations would set maximum rates that could be charged for non-legal form preparation services and penalties for violations.