State Bar Warns Consumers That New Law Bans Up-Front Fees For Immigration Reform Services

The State Bar of California is advising consumers that as of October 5, 2013, it is illegal for immigration lawyers and consultants to take money for services related to federal immigration reform until Congress acts.

AB 1159, authored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, was approved by the California Legislature last month. It went into effect today when it was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The legislation also:

  • Requires attorneys and immigration consultants to account for any money already accepted for immigration reform services and either refund the money or deposit it in a client trust account.
  • Requires attorneys to inform clients receiving immigration reform act services where they can report complaints. A notice for attorneys to use will be posted on the State Bar’s website and available in multiple languages.
  • Increases the amount of bond that immigration consultants must carry from $50,000 to $100,000 as of July 1, 2014.
  • Prohibits the use of the term “notario,” which has been misconstrued as someone who is qualified to give legal advice.
  • Provides that a person who violates the ban on the use of the term “notario” is subject to a civil penalty of up to $1,000 per day for each violation.

“This new tool will greatly aid in the bar’s public protection efforts,” State Bar President Patrick M. Kelly said. “I’d like to thank everyone who worked so hard to make this legislation a reality.”

President-elect Luis Rodriguez said the legislation will aid in the bar's effort to protect immigrants from those who would seek to take advantage of their dreams of citizenship.

"We in California are fortunate to have bipartisan leadership that has come together to protect a vulnerable community," Rodriguez said. "Because of Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez's leadership, the State Bar along with key stakeholders like AILA (American Immigration Lawyers Association) have made protection of a vulnerable community a reality."