I have been speaking with more and more undocumented immigrants in recent weeks about the possibility of immigration reform. On Saturday, I participated in a discussion on the topic at a Freeport church hosted by the community empowerment group, La Fuente. I wanted to share some of the concerns I’ve heard from these potential applicants for legalization.
The first thing immigrants tell me is that the possibility for reform seems unreal. They say that we’ve gone down this path before in 2010 and it led nowhere. “What is different now?” they ask. My answer is always the same. The 2012 election is the difference. The growing power of the Latino and Asian electorate is no longer a secret. This does not mean reform is foreordained, but it does mean that it is achievable.
The next question is who will qualify – this is a question I just cannot answer. While much of the media attention is on whether there will be a path to citizenship, we see few questions being asked about what the cutoff date of entry will be and if and what prior legal issues would disqualify a immigrant from applying.
I am also asked a lot of questions by immigrants afraid of being ripped off. When the DACA program for DREAMers got underway last summer, many young people were charged more than a thousand dollars for help by lawyers and people pretending to be lawyers. Unless the person had some serious problems, I found that it took about two hours to prepare an application for DACA. My question to the lawyers who charged such high prices was is your work really valued at $500 to $750 per hour. Immigration lawyers normally charge $200 to $350 per hour for their services. Other young people went to notaries, got lousy help, and then had to come to CARECEN to undo the mistakes.
My advice to potential applicants is to be careful before you part with your money. First, there isn’t even a bill out now. No one should be paying a lawyer right now to apply. There may come a time when the bill has passed both houses of Congress when it will make sense to hire a lawyer, but now is not that time. Immigration lawyers should not see the legalization program as an opportunity to gouge immigrants trying to come out of the shadows. They should behave like professionals serving the interests of justice. I will write more next month about what I think the responsibilities of the Immigration Bar are at this time.
Finally, no one should ever go to a notary for legal services. Notaries have no special training in the law, there is no educational requirements to become a notary, and I have seen more people wind up in deportation proceedings due to notaries than I have due to ICE investigations. Any notary who gives legal advice is violating the law.