California Bar Journal
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Con artists single out immigrants
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Maria VillaNewly arrived immigrants seeking to comply with the laws of this country are preyed upon by con artists who take advantage of language barriers and confusion in terminology, place deceptive ads and promise "insider" contacts.

Mr. Lin was a minister in China. To escape religious persecution he came to America seeking religious freedom. After arriving, he went to a legal services business advertised in a Chinese newspaper. For $10,000, the business promised him a green card. Mr. Lin borrowed half of the fee money. The green card never arrived. When Mr. Lin took an American-born friend to assist him in obtaining the green card or his money back, an agent of the business yelled at Mr. Lin's friend and shoved her down a stairway.

An Armenian national posing as a former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) agent would lure foreign nationals, mainly Armenian and Japanese, promising an inside track in assisting them with their immigration status. This UPL provider, charging an average of $10,000, would file bogus claims for political asylum for Japanese nationals where no case for persecution could be made. When the INS discovered the falsehood, the client would end up in deportation proceedings.

In July the State Bar Board of Governors began to tackle this complex issue. Our goal is to curb UPL activities involving consumer harm as part of a balanced, collaborative effort to increase access to legal services and to the justice system. In addition to working with various agencies and law enforcement officials, we plan to develop a litigation handbook and continue to pursue investigations and disciplinary actions against lawyers who aid and abet UPL. As our president already mentioned, we also plan to propose statutory and rule amendments to enhance the enforcement of limitations on non-lawyer practice.

As part of our public protection responsibility, it is crucial that we educate the public, especially the immigrant communities, so they do not fall prey to unscrupulous UPL providers. Knowledge is power, and an educated public can make better-informed decisions about their own legal assistance.

EDITOR'S NOTE: See related UPL stories on pages 1 and 7. Please send your comments or ideas regarding other issues to