The City of Chicago Office of the Mayor recently conducted an undercover operation to reveal that a high percentage of offices around Chicago offering immigration services without attorneys on staff were violating basic requirements established by the City. This article is intended to help people in need of assistance with immigration questions determine which offices are safe to work with and what precautions to take when hiring help.
The Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) in Chicago is an agency dedicated to maintaining a “fair and vibrant marketplace for both businesses and consumers.” Throughout Chicago, part of their work involves oversight of the Immigration Assistance Laws that regulate the practice of immigration services. These regulations require Immigration Service Providers (offices that do not offer services from licensed attorneys) to comply with specific notice, license, and pricing requirements.
One way the City manages the practice of immigration services is to maintain a set of regulations and requirements with which any office offering assistance with immigration practice must comply. For example, the City requires that Immigration service providers who are not lawyers sign a contract with their clients, post signs that such offices are not law offices, have fee caps on prices, and register with the Business Affairs and Consumer Protection as an immigration service provider. In Chicago, Immigration service providers who are not lawyers cannot do the same legal work that a lawyer can do for a client.
These regulations were put in place in May 2012 and are intended to provide consistency, fairness and protection for people who need professional help in navigating the complicated Federal Immigration system. The entire list of these requirements is available on the city of Chicago’s website at Chicago Consumer Protection for Immigrants.
Oftentimes, when people are not familiar with the Federal immigration system in the United States, these distinctions are difficult to figure out. Unfortunately, this means that sometimes clients are unfairly convinced that an immigration service provider can help them in situations that are outside the purview of such an office and are very expensive.
Consumer protection regulations apply to businesses that offer immigration services but are not law offices. Notaries, “notary publics,” “notarios” and “public notaries” cannot practice immigration law the same way as an immigration lawyer. Because of this distinction, many people incorrectly believe that an immigration service provider can help their immigration case, when in fact, only a lawyer could. This difference means that Immigration Service Providers often take advantage of consumers who might not be aware of the laws in the United States. To protect these consumers, the City of Chicago has established these strict rules. Always make sure that you know what type of office you are visiting – a lawyer or attorney is different than a notary or immigration service office. Many times, only a lawyer can help with an immigration case.
Attorneys are regulated by the Attorney and Registration Disciplinary Commission of the Supreme Court of Illinois. Immigration Service Assistance Providers must have a City of Chicago Limited Business License, register with the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection in Chicago, enter into signed contracts with clients and abide by maximum fee rates.
The City of Chicago took action against Immigration Service Providers who violated the regulations and took advantage of consumers. On March 8, 2013, the Office of the Mayor announced that a large number of offices in Chicago were violating the regulations established by the BACP. Undercover investigations revealed that businesses were charging exorbitant prices, providing unauthorized legal advice, and promising service results that were legally impossible to achieve for their customers. These undercover investigations uncovered the shocking fact that 44 percent of the immigration service offices visited in Chicago were violating BACP rules. These violations cost innocent consumers their money, time and sometimes their chance to properly establish their immigration status.
As Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel stated in the March 8, 2013 press release, “I refuse to allow fraudulent immigration assistance providers to take advantage of individuals just looking to access the American Dream,” said Mayor Emanuel. “Enforcement efforts like this ensure that consumers get a fair shake and that businesses that cut corners or defraud consumers will be held accountable.” The entire text of the press release is available at COC press release.
The BACP will soon be releasing new regulations to ensure that Chicago immigration service providers make it very clear to consumers what they are authorized to do and how much money can be charged. These offices must have a special license. They must make it very clear to consumers that they are not lawyers and therefore cannot practice immigration law. The crackdown on the illegal practices of some immigration service providers was a strong effort by the City of Chicago Mayor’s Office to ensure that all consumers are protected from illegal and unfair practices of offices unqualified to offer immigration services.
The Law Offices of Robert D. Ahlgren & Associates recommends that consumers make an informed decision when they seek help in an immigration case. It is important to know that an immigration service provider is different than an immigration attorney. Efforts taken by the City of Chicago to ensure that no family or client is treated unfairly by an unlicensed immigration service provider will help protect consumers and families from around the world.
If you have been an unfortunate victim of such illegal practices, there are various ways to report these services to the authorities. The American Immigration Lawyers Association hosts a website called Stop Notario Fraud, available at http://www.stopnotariofraud.org. This website includes links to the Federal Trade Commission website, where people can fill out a form and submit it online to file a complaint.
In Illinois, consumers are also directed to call the Illinois State Bar Association (ISBA) Task Force on Unauthorized Practice of Law by calling (217) 525-1760 or (800) 252-8908. The mailing address of this office is Attn: Task Force on Unauthorized Practice of Law, Illinois Bar Center, 424 South Second Street, Springfield, IL 62701-1779. In Cook County, Illinois, consumers can reach out to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office – Consumer Fraud Unit and file a complaint by calling (312) 603-8600 or downloading a form athttp://www.statesattorney.org/index2/pdf/GeneralComplaintForm.pdf. This form can be sent by mail.
If consumers take the time to report the illegal practice of notaries, they will help to protect innocent families seeking immigration assistance in the future while simultaneously helping to ensure that such people are punished for the harm they cause consumers and families in need of help.
If you have a question or concern regarding your immigration case, please call our office to schedule a consultation.
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