Last fall a new law took effect which is intended to protect consumers of immigration services in the State of California. AB 1159, authored by Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, and signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown on October 5, 2013, aims to prevent immigration scams by prohibiting immigration attorneys and immigration consultants from accepting fees from clients for services tied to anticipated federal immigration reform until Congress enacts new legislation. (Unlike immigration attorneys, “immigration consultants” in California are not authorized to practice law and are prohibited from giving legal assistance or advice in immigration matters.)
The new State law also (1) mandates that attorneys who accepted fees for immigration reform act services before the law took effect to account for those fees and either refund the fees to the client or deposit them into a client trust account, (2) requires immigration attorneys who provide immigration reform act services to provide clients with a written notice on how to report complaints, (3) increases the statutory bond amount for “immigration consultants” from $50,000 to $100,000 effective July 1, 2014, (4) prohibits use of the term “notario,” which in certain Latin American countries refers to persons who are qualified to perform legal services, by non lawyers who are not similarly authorized to practice law in the United States, and (5) provides a civil penalty of up to $1,000 a day per violation for persons who violate the prohibition on use of the term “notario.”
Timothy D. Widman is a Immigration Attorney and the owner of the Law Office of Timothy D. Widman, with offices in San Jose and Cupertino.