Helping Educate the Immigrant Community about their Legal Rights

One of the goals of the Immigration Legal Assistance Project (ILAP) is to help educate the immigrant community about their legal rights. By knowing their rights they can help themselves. By helping themselves they can keep their families together. ILAP helps the community in two ways -  providing accurate information about the immigration process and law, and by working with the Immigration Court to ensure that persons in deportation proceedings also know their rights.  There are many “notarios” and consultants acting as though they are licensed attorneys.  These unlicensed, unethical self-appointed immigration consultants illegally present themselves as lawyers and share inaccurate advice with their unsuspecting clients.  By working with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services and Immigration Court, ILAP has helped the immigrant community counter this wide spread abuse.

Here is one such story from a volunteer attorney, NP Shah, who helped an immigrant (respondent) in Immigration Court.   

The judge asked me to review a respondent’s asylum application and to represent him during his “pleadings” because he did not have an attorney.

I tried talking to the respondent but his English was poor.  He said he didn’t have any friends with him to translate but later I realized that there were two guys (who I think were “notarios”) waiting for him outside in the hallway.

I reviewed his asylum application (as best I could).  Most of the dates in his application were wrong or he was not sure about. The client said that he paid $150 for the asylum application and his “lawyer” told him that today he could file this application and next time he would come to the court to get his green card. I suspected that this client was a victim of notario fraud because every time a person comes to the Immigration Court the notarios swarm around them. 

I told the judge that the client may be eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and for the U visa and that he is very interested in filing these applications. But, the judge told me that she had only asked me to review his asylum application. When I told the judge that he has not been read his asylum application in Spanish, she read it to the client, had him sign it and filed it.

The judge set a merits hearing and said that she would need a copy of the U Visa* application completed and filed, or at least complete with U visa certification signed by the police, by the hearing date or she would go forward with the merits and he may be removed. 

After the court hearing, I gave the client a list of pro bono attorneys, change of address form, contact information for the Inland Counties Legal Services who could help him process the U visa, as well as the ILAP’s address.

It was my first day as a pro bono attorney and I was glad I was able to help, thanks to ILAP.

*Congress created the U-visa in 2000 to bolster law enforcement's ability to investigate and prosecute certain crimes while offering protection to the victims. As a crime victim who cooperated with law enforcement, the respondent will be able to apply for a visa that would grant him temporary legal status in the United States.