AILA's Pro Bono Newsletter

Pro Bono Newsletter, Fall 2013

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AB-1159 and the Impact of State Regulations on Federal Law by Cynthia Lucas O n Sept. 12, the California State Legislature passed a consumer protection bill for immigration services known as Assembly Bill 1159 (AB-1159). AB-1159, titled the Immigration Reform Act, was introduced as a "consumer protection measure" aimed at reducing or eliminating fraud in immigration services. However, to the extent that the initially proposed language focused on additional regulations and less on enforcement of existing regulations already intended to address such fraud, AILA opposed this bill, concerned that it would have a harmful effect on consumers who are in most need of qualified legal services—the very population this law purportedly intended to protect. Throughout the legislative process, AILA kept the line of communication open with the drafters of this new legislation to convey our concerns that the focus and method of this bill would not achieve its intended purpose, and instead might have the ill-effect of generating more fraud. There was concern about some of the originally included onerous provisions: Learn more about California's AB-1159, including the latest version, history, and analysis. • attorneys having to post a large monetary bond to practice immigration law in connection with "immigration reform act services" • providing required notices to consumers about how to make formal complaints to the State Bar • translating all such notices and related retainers in a client's "native" language • the State Bar collecting additional fees from attorneys to administer the new regulations. Adoption of these requirements would not only make the practice of immigration law cost prohibitive to many attorneys, making good attorneys less accessible to clients who would not be able to afford higher costs in legal fees, but it might also dissuade attorneys from engaging in pro bono work as any technical violations of those provisions would have resulted in a daily fine of $1000. AILA National, together with the AILA California chapters, fought "AILA kept the lines of communication open with the drafters of this new legislation to convey our concerns that the focus and method of this bill would not achieve its intended purpose, and instead might have the ill-effect of generating more fraud." hard to ensure that the integrity of our practice area and important access to quality immigration representation in California were not undermined by overly burdensome legislation. Specifically, the www.StopNotarioFraud. org consumer website and AILA's Public Service Announcements were provided as an example of community outreach containing essential information and resources on how to avoid being defrauded and obtain competent representation, so that immigrants are not driven to unauthorized practitioners, notarios and immigration consultants. Advocacy to oppose AB-1159 in its previous form continued until the very last week of the State Legislative session when the authors of the bill ultimately conceded to significantly change the language and address concerns. The path to making AB-1159 more tolerable so that it would not interfere with legitimate daily practice of immigration law by honest attorneys was far from easy. The advocacy commitment of all of those involved from leadership to membership both nationally and locally was truly commendable. The potential for negative precedent in other states has hopefully been deterred, but it is an important reminder for members to stay abreast of local and state laws potentially impacting the practice of immigration law. Perhaps more importantly, it should serve as an impetus to maintain a high quality of legal services in private and nonprofit practice and to engage in pro bono work that will help empower the communities we serve and prevent them from becoming prey to consumer fraud. Cynthia Lucas is a member of the AILA National Pro Bono Services Committee and Chair of the AILA Southern California Chapter. Learn more about AILA's Stop Notario Fraud program, including frequently asked questions and where to find help. www.aila.org 4

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