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(SAN FRANCISCO) - Attorney General Bill Lockyer today announced his office obtained temporary restraining orders against three San Mateo "immigration consultant" businesses he sued for violating state law regulating immigration consultants.
"The immigration consultant business is filled with too many unscrupulous operators who prey on immigrants who are trying to establish new lives for themselves and their families in California," Lockyer said. "To protect law-abiding immigrants, state law requires individuals and businesses that hold themselves out as ‘immigration consultants' to post $50,000 bonds and comply with other legal requirements. We will continue to vigorously prosecute those businesses that operate outside of the law."
The individuals running these businesses are alleged to have violated state law by failing to post bonds required to protect consumers from unscrupulous immigration consultants. The complaints, filed in San Mateo Superior Court today, claim the businesses advertised themselves as "immigration consultants" or as providing "immigration services" in magazines, the Yellow Pages, in other publications or by word of mouth. Yet none of the "immigration consultants" has filed a $50,000 bond with the Secretary of State's Office, as required by law.
San Mateo Superior Court Presiding Judge Mark R. Forcum granted temporary restraining orders barring the companies from operating without a bond. If found liable, the defendants also may be subject to stiff penalties for operating without a bond and may have to reimburse the state for its costs in bringing the suit.
Named in the complaints were the following San Mateo County businesses and their owners:
Huangs & Associates of Foster City, and George Huang, Brian C. Huang, Karen T. Huang, and Helen M. Huang
Kelly Tax Service and Kelly Tax and Notary Service of San Mateo, and Davis Vargas and Jackelyn Vargas
Miranda & Associate and Miranda & Associates of South San Francisco, and Bessie Miranda
Since 1994, immigration consultants have been required to file bonds before conducting business in California. As Attorney General, Lockyer sponsored a bill that went into effect Jan. 1, 2002, requiring anyone who advertises as, or holds themselves out to be, an immigration consultant to file a $50,000 bond with the Secretary of State's Office. SB 1194 by Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, also bolstered penalties against unscrupulous non-attorneys who promote themselves as "immigration law specialists" and offer unlawful legal advice to immigrants seeking help in obtaining jobs, establishing citizenship and other activities. The law authorizes courts to award victims financial damages, up to $100,000 in civil penalties per violation, attorneys' fees and other compensation.
Lockyer also sponsored legislation last year that makes it clear the attorney general, district attorney or city attorney may seek civil penalties of up to $100,000 per violation and injunctive relief against immigration consultants who violate state law. That measure, AB 1999 by Assemblyman Lou Correa, D-Anaheim, went into effect Jan. 1, 2003.
The lawsuits are the latest targeting immigration consultants who violate the law. In January, the Attorney General sued five San Francisco immigration consultants who were operating without the required bonds. In 2001, Lockyer filed suit against three major Los Angeles immigration consultant companies that were illegally portraying themselves as lawyers, engaging in fraudulent advertising and violating state laws regulating immigration consultants.
Lockyer urged consumers to be careful when obtaining immigration services. The Attorney General's Office of Immigrant Assistance has developed a brochure, "Immigration Services: Protecting Your Consumer Rights," which is available in seven languages: Armenian, Chinese, English, Hmong, Korean, Spanish and Vietnamese. The brochures can be viewed at ag.ca.gov/immigrant/publications.htm
Californians who believe they may be victims of unscrupulous immigration consultant companies should contact the Attorney General's Office of Immigrant Assistance by calling toll-free 1-888-587-0557.