-“…But the person who did my immigration papers said it was not an issue and why am I in deportation proceedings, now?
-Who filed your application?
-Someone downtown, it is an agency that files immigration visas all the time, my friends used them too.
-Were they attorneys?
-No but they said they could do it.
-I am sorry to inform you that you are in big trouble because you put your life in the hands of someone who should never had advised you in the first place…..”
Almost every day I have similar conversations with clients who are out of status or even end up in deportation proceedings because they were represented by notaries or people who fraudulently induced them to believe that they were authorized to give legal advice.
In every jurisdiction of the United States, the state practice of law is limited to attorneys who are licensed and are in good standing with the state bar. The practice of federal law, including immigration law, is permitted to licensed attorneys in any state. The unauthorized practice of law in Florida is prohibited by Florida statute § 454.23, Fla. Stat. (2021). It includes any individual who practices law unauthorized, give legal advice, and present himself/herself as qualified to practice law. Those that violate the statue commit a felony of the third degree and it can result in a punishment of five years in prison and a fine up to $5,000.
Recently, Miami Dade County passed ordinance Section 1. Article XX, Section 21-288 of the Code of Miami-Dade County, further condemning unauthorized practice of law. The new ordinance is similar to the Florida state law where an individual is prohibited from unauthorized practice of law or presenting themselves as qualified to practice law in Florida, but it is specific to the area of immigration law. Unlicensed individuals are also prohibited from the preparation or the assistance of preparation of immigration documents on behalf of another. The ordinance also clarifies that notary publics who are not attorneys must state in their advertisements that they are not attorneys, they cannot give out legal advice, and they may not use the phrase “Notary Public” in any other language other than English. The ordinance was created to help prevent perpetrators from taking advantage of immigrants who would seek help in their immigration matters. First offenses violations are punishable with a fine of $2,500 and subsequent offenses are punishable with a fine of $5,000 in addition to the punishment by Florida state law. Every year, thousands of immigrants are victims of immigration fraud that ruin their lives and their families’. Immigration law is one of the most complex areas of law. Many immigrants ignore that an application is not limited to the filing of forms, others are induced into thinking that a public notary is someone licensed by the state bar like in many other countries. To avoid any mistake, I advise to ask questions before hiring an attorney. Someone who is licensed and qualified will be happy to share information about their experience and qualifications. I also encourage to look up websites to find more about the person who will be responsible for your life and your family’ future.