Unauthorized Practice of Immigration Law (UPIL): A State-by-State Overview of Legal Mechanisms to Combat these Deceptive Practices

What Is This

The “Unauthorized Practice of Immigration Law (UPIL): A State-by-State Overview of Legal Mechanisms to Combat these Deceptive Practices” resource is intended for immigration attorneys, accredited representatives, and community-based organizations assisting noncitizen clients who have been victims of unauthorized practice of immigration law. Unauthorized practitioners of immigration law are often referred to as “notarios,” which means notary public in Spanish and notary publics in civil law societies have the authority to provide certain limited legal services. These individuals can delay immigration matters, at best, and pose a threat to the ability of a noncitizen to successfully qualify for immigration benefits, at worst. Victims of unauthorized practice of immigration law also face indescribable loss, including dashed hopes for legal status in the United States, depletion of limited financial resources, and possibly deportation from the United States.

Unauthorized practitioners often target immigrant communities with false messages that they can represent immigrants in legal immigration matters. In reality, these immigration consultants or notarios lack the credentials and authority to prepare immigration documents and to represent noncitizens in immigration proceedings. Both the code of federal regulations (C.F.R.) and U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) define the practice of immigration law in a manner that includes the selection and preparation of forms, in addition to any advice on any matter concerning one’s immigration status, such as how to answer questions on immigration forms, and what options a noncitizen might have. 8 C.F.R. §§ 1.1(i), 1001.1(i). Only attorneys and non-attorney representatives who are recognized and accredited may advise on immigration law. 8 C.F.R. §§ 292.1 (DHS) & 1292.1 (EOIR). Therefore, unauthorized practitioners of immigration law lack not only the skills, resources, training, and knowledge necessary to assist immigrants in matters of immigration law before USCIS and the Immigration Courts, but also the credentials and authority.

This resource offers information regarding the redress options for deceptive practices or consumer protection laws in each state. Although states and localities cannot enforce federal immigration law, the majority of states has enacted laws aimed at targeting unauthorized practice of immigration law or has applied existing unauthorized practice of law statutes to immigration law practice. These laws impose minor penalties, including small fines, civil penalties, and misdemeanor charges. Unfortunately, few statutes impose serious penalties like felony charges. In addition, some states have special unauthorized practice of law enforcement mechanisms, including complaints made to the state bar association, an immigrant assistance section of the attorney general’s office, or other governmental body. These developments on a state-by-state level may produce a patchwork of laws and penalties, but these are nonetheless welcome as the Department of Homeland Security is ill-suited in regulating unauthorized practice of immigration law.

Aside from laws on which unauthorized practice of immigration law victims may rely to seek redress, this document also includes the requirements for becoming a notary public and the contact information for the licensing agency in each state should the unauthorized practitioner be a notary public who is relying on this license to misrepresent his or her authority and credentials to practice immigration law. Further, when presenting the immigrant community with the requirements for becoming a notary public compared to the requirements for becoming a lawyer or a recognized and accredited representative, the dangers of hiring a notary public for one’s immigration case become clear.

If you are a community-based organization assisting a noncitizen who needs a referral to an immigration lawyer, please visit AILA at www.ailalawyer.com or contact a CLINIC affiliate via the affiliate map and listing available at www.cliniclegal.org/find-legal-help/affiliates/directory. If you need a referral to a consumer protection lawyer, please visit National Association of Consumer Advocates at www.consumeradvocates.org/find-an-attorney.

Who We Are

The “Unauthorized Practice of Immigration Law (UPIL): A State-by-State Overview of Legal Mechanisms to Combat these Deceptive Practice” resource is the product of two organizations: the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC).

AILA is the national association of more than 14,000 attorneys and law professors who practice and teach immigration law. Founded in 1946, AILA is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that provides continuing legal education, information, professional services, and expertise through its 38 chapters and over 50 national committees. AILA is committed to collaborating with the community to address the harmful effects of the unlawful practice of immigration law (UPIL) and to educate the immigrant community about seeking qualified legal assistance. The 2013-2014 AILA National Consumer Protection and UPL Action Committee developed the idea for this resource.

Established in 1988, CLINIC is a nonprofit organization that promotes the dignity and protects the rights of immigrants in partnership with a dedicated network of Catholic and community legal immigration programs. CLINIC has more than 330 affiliates across 47 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, which provide direct legal services to the immigration community. CLINIC’s affiliates see firsthand the damage “notario” fraud inflicts upon the immigrant communities, because the victims often turn to the low-cost immigration assistance of nonprofit agencies to fix the damage.

AILA and CLINIC wish to thank several individuals for their contributions to this resource. First, we wish to thank attorney Courtney LaFranchi, for editing, reviewing, and updating this manual for publication. Second, Anne Schaufele, who was previously served as Ayuda’s Project END Attorney, is the national expert on unauthorized practice of immigration law remedies and provided invaluable feedback on this resource. Thanks to Ms. Schaufele, Ayuda partnered with Georgetown University Law Center’s Community Justice Project to develop “Notario Fraud Remedies: A Practical Manual for Immigration Practitioners.” Third, thanks to Matthew W Blaisdell, a New York-based attorney and advocate who has devoted much of his career to combating unauthorized practice of immigration. Mr. Blaisdell has served and been an asset to the AILA National Consumer Protection and UPL Action Committee for years. His thoughtful commentary on this resource is a reflection of his passion for protecting noncitizens from the unauthorized practice of immigration law.

CLINIC and AILA sincerely hope this resource is useful and assists attorneys, accredited and recognized representatives, and community-based organizations who seek to uphold the rights of vulnerable noncitizens and to redress for fraud perpetrated by unauthorized practitioners of immigration law. To report any corrections or updates to this resource, please email Viviana Westbrook at vwestbrook@cliniclegal.org.

To filter the list below for a specific state.

Alabama UPL Statute Summary

Alabama Code 1975 § 34-3-1. Unlawful Practice of Law

If any person shall, without having become duly licensed to practice, or whose license to practice shall have expired either by disbarment, failure to pay his license fee within 30 days after the day it becomes due, or otherwise, practice or assume to act or hold himself out to the public as a person qualified to practice or carry on the calling of a lawyer, he shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and fined not to exceed $500.00, or be imprisoned for a period not to exceed six months, or both.

Enforcement Mechanisms/Complaint Processes for UPL

Victims may contact the Consumer Affairs Section of the Office of Attorney General. You may file a complaint here or mail it to:

Office of Alabama Attorney General - Consumer Protection Section

P.O. Box 300152
Montgomery, AL 36130-0152
Hotline: 1-800-392-5658
Tel: (334) 242-7335
Fax: (334) 242-2433

To provide attachments or supplemental items to your complaint, please e-mail them to consumerinterest@ago.state.al.us

Liability may be found under the Alabama Deceptive Trade Practices Act, accessible Alabama Code 1975 § 8-19-1.

The Alabama State Bar also has a UPL Committee that receives, reviews, investigates, and acts on complaints alleging the unauthorized practice of law by individuals or entities not licensed to practice law in the State of Alabama, and assists in educating attorneys, judges, and the public regarding unauthorized practice of law issues. You may contact them here.

Reporting Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

Ineffective assistance of counsel can be reported to the Alabama State Bar here (information available in English and Spanish).

Contact Information for Relevant Agencies

Alabama State Bar Association:

415 Dexter Avenue
Montgomery, AL 36104
Tel: (334) 269-1515
Toll Free: 1-800-354-6154
Fax: (334) 261-6310

Notary Public Information:

Contact your local probate judge. Contact information is accessible here.

Becoming a Notary Public

  • Must be 18 years of age or older and resident of Alabama
  • Must be a resident of county of application
  • A person convicted of a felony may not be able to become a Notary Public in AL unless a pardon restores his or her civil and political rights
  • The probate judges of each Alabama county set application rules and procedures for the commissioning Notaries.
  • Must possess all legal requirements to be an officer in the state
  • A resident of another U.S. state may not apply for an AL Notary commission
  • The completed application and a $25,000 bond must be submitted and approved by the county probate judge. The probate judge may collect a fee of $10. A fee may also be charged for filing the bond with the county.
  • Must apply to the probate judge for your county. Contact information can be accessed here.

The Secretary of State has a search tool of recently issued commissions or to locate any current Alabama notary, which can be accessed here.