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Adios, shysters



If you see State Rep. Steve Tobocman, D-southwest Detroit, give him a pat on the back. Tobocman spearheaded a bill called the Michigan Immigration Clerical Assistance Act (MICA) intended to protect immigrants from so-called “immigration consultants.”

Last week, Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed the bill into law.

Tobocman says many unsuspecting immigrants — both legal and illegal — turn to unscrupulous consultants for legal advice. Some have paid thousands of dollars to consultants who take their money and run. In some cases they make legal matters worse for immigrants and get them deported.

Metro Times did an exposé on consultants last year (“Exploiting immigrants,” Nov. 5, 2003).

Anyone driving along West Vernor Highway in southwest Detroit will see dozens of signs posted by people offering assistance with immigration matters. What lures some newly arrived immigrants is the Spanish term “notario publico” — notary public.

In many Latin American countries, a notario publico is an attorney. Immigrants see such signs and assume the person is a lawyer and qualified to help them, when notary publics in this country can merely verify signatures on documents.

Tobocman’s district has a large Spanish-speaking community. He’s frequently received complaints from social service groups and churches about immigrants who were swindled by crooked consultants. Many immigrants — particularly if they are in the country illegally — do not press charges for fear they will be deported.

MICA will allow attorneys — instead of fearful immigrants — to be plaintiffs in lawsuits against consultants. MICA also requires people who profit from providing immigration services to post a $50,000 bond, and put in writing — in the client’s native language — the services they provide.

Those who violate the law are subject to fines and prosecution.

Gracias, Señor Tobocman!

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