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ABA Sees Risk of Fraud by People Aiding Illegal Aliens

November 04, 1986|LEE MAY | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — American Bar Assn. officials, expressing concern that illegal immigrants will be exploited by unscrupulous lawyers, notaries and counselors, said Monday that they plan to monitor those giving immigration advice to aliens seeking legal status under the new immigration bill about to be signed by President Reagan.

Frederick Dale Swartz, who heads an ABA panel on individual rights and responsibilities, said the action is planned because "a picture is emerging" that shows great potential for fraud against millions of immigrants.

In cities with large illegal immigrant populations, advertisements on radio, leaflets and business cards are already promising immigrants quick, automatic qualification as legal residents--promises that are impossible to keep--said Swartz and other officials around the country. Fees as high as $3,000 per case are being reported for work that should cost a fraction of that, he said.

"Advertising has begun to escalate, and people are being misled," said Ira Kurzban, a Miami lawyer who is president-elect of the Immigration Lawyers Assn.

Gilbert P. Carrasco, associate director of migration and refugee services at the U.S. Catholic Conference, said his organization has received reports of fraud, "and it is a great concern of ours."

In Los Angeles, Peter A. Schey, executive director of the National Center for Immigrants' Rights, said unscrupulous notaries, attorneys and immigration counselors virtually are promising to "legalize the world," even though many aliens will not qualify for legal residency.

Denial of Amnesty

In general, those illegal aliens who have lived in the country continuously since Jan. 1, 1982, may apply for amnesty, but they must meet other criteria. Schey said his group has identified 29 reasons a person here for that period of time may be denied amnesty, including criminal convictions or having no means of financial support.

Also, contrary to some claims that promise expedited paper work, no legal residency applications will be accepted by federal officials until next May. Immigrants will have one year to apply after that date.

Swartz said that an ABA committee will meet in Washington this week to discuss the issue, which has been given "high priority."

Swartz, who noted that he received "spontaneous applause" last Friday when he mentioned the problem at a Miami meeting of lawyers from around the nation, said the ABA panel will "monitor the practices" of lawyers and non-lawyers, looking for complaints about exorbitant fees and unrealistic promises.

Disbarment action will be initiated against dishonest lawyers, and information on other cases will be referred to legal authorities for possible prosecution.

Richard H. Keatinge, chairman of the ABA's coordinating committee on immigration, said the group plans to "prepare a simplified manual," probably in Spanish and English, to advise immigrants of their rights and of procedures in the new bill.

Among those who seek business from the immigrants, notaries public should receive particular scrutiny, immigrant rights advocates said.

In Mexico and some other countries, notarios are allowed to perform functions that are, in this country, reserved for lawyers, such as representing people in some legal proceedings, the rights advocates said. But, in the United States, notaries generally are authorized only to fill out forms and verify that a person appeared before them.

Therefore, unscrupulous notaries could have a relatively easy time preying on vulnerable immigrants who do not understand their limited authority, rights advocates said.

Eugene E. Hines, executive director of the 24,000-member American Society of Notaries, acknowledged the possibility of abuses.

"In our newsletter, we condemn the practice (of overcharging or making inflated promises)," he said, "and we're on record as favoring strict laws on this point. We decry the whole mess."

California prohibits notaries from charging more than $10 to fill out immigration forms, said James W. Randall, chief of the notary public division in the California secretary of state's office.

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