Note: The below is re-printed from a letter authored by yours truly and addressed to California State Senator Kevin de Leon (D-Sacramento) and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), co-authors of proposed Assembly Bill (AB) 1159. AB 1159 purports to ‘protect California consumers’ by requiring immigration attorneys in the State of California to meet special licensure requirements, including a new requirement to be bonded or adequately insured in order to practice ‘immigration reform services,’ and to be subject to special oversight by the State Bar of California. The measure is proposed in anticipation of Congress passing Comprehensive Immigration Reform legislation. It is motivated by a flawed understanding of our profession and by blatant advocacy of special interests in California that will, in effect, backfire if passed. ~ FRW
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Dear Senator de Leon and Assemblywoman Gonzalez:
I practiced immigration law for seven years in downtown San Diego before relocating to San Rafael in the Bay Area. I have over 15 years experience in this field. It is a more difficult and complex field than most non-immigration practitioners realize, often thankless and far from lucrative. But I love it anyway and intend to stick with it.
I essentially began my career by studying international relations at UC Davis, and my parents live in Sacramento. I know this state, its international flavor and its immigrant community well.
Please realize, the far majority of immigration lawyers in California are ethical and honest, and routinely achieve for our clients exactly what they came to us for. We take pride in our work because we see the results first-hand. We attend heart-warming naturalization ceremonies. We’ve all seen clients cry with joy at an approval notice. We are witnessing first-hand how Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals is changing lives for the better. We anguish with our clients when we run out of options.
In this regard, AB 1159 is misguided policy and an overreach, not to mention insulting to a large class of California professionals. It is not enough to assume a level of fraud in the immigration bar that would justify these measures. You need to demonstrate a proliferation of past fraud through evidence. Among California’s immigration attorneys, the evidence is just not there.
Incoming California State Bar president Luis Rodriguez cites premature advertisements for reform services directed at the immigrant community. By whom? Seriously? A few advertisements taints an entire class of immigration professionals? The State Bar is already statutorily equipped to investigate and discipline devious practitioners. You’re confusing prospective growth in the immigration market with prospective growth in the number of bad immigration lawyers.
The unscrupulous ethics of notarios and other UPL schemers is well known. By raising my legal fees to meet the requirements you propose – which I will do – thousands of prospective beneficiaries of comprehensive immigration reform in California will be driven into the waiting arms and larcenous schemes of those same notarios. Many others will simply pay up as the cost of living in an over-regulated state.
Despite what many non-immigration practitioners perceive, immigration lawyers don’t just fill out forms. We give reasoned advice, often tailored to humanitarian concerns, or strategically designed to take advantage of the current conflicted state of U.S. immigration law. We analyze the time variable, ramifications on family members, the mysterious nature of selective I.C.E. prosecution, and navigate complex bureaucratic mazes on a daily basis.
In other words, our work is dynamic and challenging, and very fact intensive. In this regard, the California State Bar is in no position to act in an oversight role with regard to our work. Requiring some form of special registration as an immigration practitioner, authority to review our representation agreements, review our accounting practices, approve of the fees we charge for “filling out forms,” requiring us to be bonded or adequately insured (based on what metric?). . . it’s all quite unnecessary and will present a serious burden to thousands of competent and well-meaning immigration attorneys. We will share that burden with the very immigrants you propose to assist.
I do understand your intentions and appreciate your dedication to California’s diverse immigrant community, but, quite frankly, you’re directing your fire at strong allies of that same community, at a critical time in this great societal struggle.
I urge you to temper your confidence in this measure and think twice. Urgently pushing an ill-considered law that will have the reverse effect of what you intend is not smart public policy.
F. Russell Wilson,
Attorney at Law