60% of our residents are either immigrants or the children of immigrants. As that number ticks up around the country, we can expect similar growth to impact our city.
In an era of heightened anti-immigrant rhetoric and increasingly complex immigration law and policy, the immigrants who live and thrive in our city find themselves looking for legal advice and services on immigration matters in hopes of finding lawful ways to remain in the United States.
Unfortunately, qualified and affordable legal services providers are often at capacity and have long waitlists, leading many immigrants to seek legal services elsewhere. The overwhelming demand for immigration legal services have created an opening for unscrupulous or unauthorized providers to exploit the needs and fears of the immigrant community.
Despite the clear limits for providers, many routinely cross the line into providing legal services. Often, providers use misleading titles to trick immigrants into thinking they are authorized to give legal advice. For example, many providers call themselves “notarios” at title which in Latin America indicates authorization to provide certain legal services.
However, notary publics in the United States are accredited in a very different capacity – as certified witnesses and oath administrators, but not as licensed lawyers or qualified legal assistants. Still, many notarios in our city present themselves authorized to provide immigration legal services – preying on vulnerable immigrants and often times causing them undue legal and financial hardship.
In November of 2016, the City Council convened a hearing on legislation to protect immigrant individuals from these predatory notarios. The result was ‘Introduction 746-A’ –passed earlier this year- which has one main purpose: to protect immigrant New Yorkers from the unauthorized practice of immigration law and providers that wish to scam some of our most vulnerable communities.
Under this legislation, providers of immigration assistance services would be prohibited from offering services that should only be provided by an attorney, and from making statements that could lead an individual to believe that the provider is an attorney or authorized to give legal advice.
Providers would also be required to give their customers comprehensive contracts that detail their duties and limitations, disclose that they are not authorized to give legal advice or representation.
This is one of many steps that the City Council has taken to protect New Yorkers, but it won’t be the last; and it remains our priority to see the contributing immigrant populations around the city safe and protected.
For information on free and low-cost legal services from qualified providers available throughout the city, visit council.nyc.gov/immigrant-resources.
(Melissa Mark-Viverito is the Speaker of the New York City Council)