Fraudulent "notarios" - a term coming from the Spanish term for public notaries, and referring to non-lawyer immigration consultants - have long scammed immigrants in need of legal help.  Federal authorities have rarely attended to the problem, and there is no federal statue which addresses the practice of immigration law by those unauthorized to do so.  Now, with the introduction of a House bill sponsored by Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.), bills in both chambers of Congress will seek to crack down on scammers amid bigger bills which would reform the nation's immigration system.  

Rep. Foster's bill, the Protecting Immigrants From Legal Exploitation Act, calls for a fine and up to 10 to 15 years in federal prison for fraudulent practicing of immigration legal services.  If passed, it would also require US Citizenship and Immigration Services to create grants for reputable organizations to provide the necessary services to immigrants.  Many organizations which currently provide legal services are swamped, and even if they're aware those organizations exist, immigrants might be more likely to seek out help somewhere where they could get it more quickly, even if they have to pay.   

According to the American Bar Association, notarios advertise themselves as qualified to help immigrants get legal status or give a hand with paperwork like the drafting of wills or other documents.  Sometimes they charge large sums - to be paid up front - for work which they never perform, and in other cases, notarios can give advice which irreparably damages an immigrant's case.  The ABA says there are a few legal paths that can be taken if an immigrant is set to be deported as a consequence of bad legal advice, but lawyers are often unaware of them.  And a huge number of cases go unreported because immigrants living illegally in the US fear authorities might take action against them if they do.  Rep. Foster's bill would also allow immigrants who were deported because of fraudulent notarios to re-file their cases. 

The Senate's comprehensive immigration bill also addresses the problem in a section which would require anyone who assists an immigrant with legal documents to identify themselves on the paperwork.  It would allows the US attorney general to come up with more specific regulations in order to crack down on crooked immigration advisors.  The fate of the Senate's overhaul, however, is uncertain, as the Republican majority in the House of Representatives has refused to consider it. 

RELATED: Sergio Garcia Blocked By Department Of Justice From Applying For Law License In California