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Regulating Immigration Legal Service Providers: Inadequate Representation and Notario Fraud

47 Pages Posted: 27 Jan 2010 Last revised: 15 Apr 2010

Careen Shannon

Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law


Immigrants are often easy prey for bogus or incompetent attorneys, "notarios," scam artists, and other bad actors who take advantage of immigrants’ limited knowledge of U.S. law, lack of English fluency, and lack of cultural knowledge to charge exorbitant fees for wild promises of green cards and citizenship that the bad actors cannot - or in some cases never intended to - deliver. Such exploitation is merely a symptom, however, of the larger problem of inadequate access to competent legal counsel by foreign nationals seeking to navigate our labyrinthine scheme of immigration laws, regulations, and policies. Contrary to popular belief, not all of these foreign nationals are "illegal aliens" who slipped over our southern border; many are entitled to obtain lawful immigration status, if only they had adequate guidance from qualified counsel to help them seek it. Unfortunately, there is no constitutionally guaranteed right to counsel in immigration proceedings (even in cases where deportation is at stake), and competent private and nonprofit resources are limited. After illustrating the nature of the problem with some real-life stories of immigrants who have been victimized by fraudulent service providers, and discussing the current state of the law with respect to what constitutes the inadequate practice of immigration law and who is legally permitted to represent immigrants in immigration matters, this report proposes changes to local, state, and federal law and policy that would help to combat fraudulent activities by unscrupulous non-lawyers and inadequately trained lawyers alike. These and other proposals are put forth in an attempt to help lay the groundwork for ensuring that immigrants in need of competent legal counsel can access the help to which they should be entitled.

Keywords: Immigration, Fraud, Notario

Suggested Citation

Shannon, Careen, Regulating Immigration Legal Service Providers: Inadequate Representation and Notario Fraud. Fordham Law Review Vol. 78, No. 2; Cardozo Legal Studies Research Paper No. 295. Available at SSRN:

Careen Shannon (Contact Author)

Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law ( email )

55 Fifth Ave.
New York, NY 10003
United States
212-891-7517 (Phone)

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