NEWARK – The State Division of Consumer Affairs has filed complaints against four businesses that allegedly advertised immigration assistance services that they were not authorized to perform, Attorney General Paula T. Dow announced today.
Only attorneys, or certain other accredited representatives authorized by the federal government, may file legal documents such as immigration forms on a client’s behalf. The four businesses, in Passaic and Hudson counties, allegedly employed individuals who were not attorneys to perform this type of legal work.
The individuals who worked for the four businesses were, or claimed to be, notaries public, according to state officials. Each of the businesses is accused of attempting to capitalize on confusion about the powers of a notary public in the United States. In certain Latin American countries, “notarios publicos” may act as attorneys, prepare legal documents on behalf of clients, and provide legal advice.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) specifically warns immigrants that notaries public, “immigration consultants,” or other such businesses cannot provide immigration legal advice or prepare legal documents on behalf of clients – although many claim the authority to do so.
“Businesses that seek to exploit their affinity to immigrant groups, and those that deliberately capitalize on confusion as to what a notary public can do in this country, too often victimize legal immigrants who are seeking to extend their visas or attain permanent residency,” said Dow. “Notaries public in New Jersey are fully informed of what they can and cannot legally do. Some may exploit the ignorance of others, but they cannot plead ignorance about their own actions.”
The following four businesses are each accused of violating New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act and Advertising Regulations by misleading consumers into believing they were authorized to provide immigration legal advice, and to prepare and file legal documents with USCIS, when they were not authorized to do so; and charging hundreds of dollars for the preparation of USCIS legal documents, when not legally permitted to charge such fees:
- Beltra’s Agency, of Clifton, and its owners Beltra Gomez, Hector Gomez. Jr., and Henry Gomez;
- Corazon Travel Agency, t/a Corazon Agency, of Paterson, and its owner, Rafael Garcia;
- Helping Honduras, Inc., d/b/a/ Helping the Immigrant Community, of Union City, and its corporate secretary and program director, Blanca Hilda Cardenas;
- Kingdom Vision Service Corporation d/b/a Kingdom Vision Multiservice, of West New York, and its president, Denise Perez.
Each of the four businesses allegedly placed Spanish-language advertisements in newspapers, offering immigration services, or offering help with “naturalization.” The advertisements ran in Spanish-language publications including the New Jersey-based Cambio and El Especialito. In the cases of Beltra’s Agency and Corazon Travel, anonymous sources clipped out the newspaper ads and mailed them to a Division of Consumer Affairs investigator, as a tip about the company’s alleged fraudulent practices.
“Consumers in need of immigration assistance should seek legal advice from legitimate sources only,” said Thomas R. Calcagni, director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “The Board of Immigration Appeals maintains a listing of attorneys who provide immigration services either for free or for little cost.”
The USCIS “Find Legal Services” website, at www.uscis.gov/immigrationpractice, tells consumers, “You may file USCIS forms yourself, but many people choose to have help. You may need help writing in the answers . . . or translating the documents into English. You can get this type of limited help from anyone. This person should only charge you a small fee and not claim to have special knowledge of immigration law and procedure.”
The website cautions that “Only attorneys or accredited representatives can: Give you legal advice about which forms to submit; explain immigration options you may have; [or] communicate with USCIS about your case.” The USCIS website describes “accredited representatives” as individuals working for specific non-profit, religious, charitable, social service, or similar organizations, approved by the Board of Immigration Appeals. Such representatives “may only charge nominal (small) fees, if any, for legal services.”
The USCIS website further notes that, “‘Notarios,’ notary publics, immigration consultants and businesses cannot give you immigration legal advice. In many other countries, the word ‘notario’ means that the individual is an attorney, but that is not true in the United States. If you need help with immigration issues, be very careful before paying money to anyone who is neither an attorney nor a BIA-accredited representative of a recognized organization.”
Legal immigrants and legal residents can reach out to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services for assistance with immigration papers. Those seeking legitimate immigration services can find educational materials at www.FTC.gov/immigration.
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