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Heartland Alliance's National Immigrant Justice Center applauds the introduction of a new bill that recognizes the need to protect immigrant communities from fraudulent legal advice.

The Immigration Fraud Prevention Act of 2009, S.577, introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), would require investigation and criminal prosecution of unauthorized individuals who pose as attorneys or "consultants" to provide immigration legal advice.

More than half of the thousands of low-income immigrants who seek legal assistance from the National Immigrant Justice Center each year previously paid for advice from fraudulent immigration consultants. Notary publics and travel agents are among the types of businesses that sometimes engage in unauthorized practice of immigration law.

"The consequences of acting on bad immigration advice can be serious, including deportation and permanent separation from family," said Mary Meg McCarthy, executive director, National Immigrant Justice Center.

While the Senate bill includes important provisions for addressing immigration consultants who act maliciously, the National Immigrant Justice Center believes further steps must be taken to protect immigrants from well-intentioned but ill-informed organizations that also can cause harm by dispensing bad legal advice.

"Immigration law is extremely complex, and people need to know that they can trust the person they are going to for advice, whether they are a paying for it or are asking for help from a social service agency or their church," McCarthy said.

The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) accredits organizations, such as the National Immigrant Justice Center, to represent immigrants in legal proceedings. To obtain accreditation, organizations must demonstrate adequate knowledge and experience to provide immigration services, and may charge only nominal fees for those services. The Department of Justice provides an updated list of BIA-accredited organizations online at http://www.usdoj.gov/eoir/statspub/raroster.htm

The Immigration Fraud Prevention Act is currently before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Read NIJC's tips for immigrants to avoid immigration fraud

Heartland Alliance's National Immigrant Justice Center is a Chicago-based nongovernmental organization dedicated to ensuring human rights protections and access to justice for all immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers through a unique combination of direct services, policy reform, impact litigation and public education. For more information visit www.immigrantjustice.org