While controversial bills affecting immigration attorneys aren’t entirely new, it is the way in which AB 1159 (in its current incarnation) has evolved that raises many questions. The effect of this bill would be to encumber legitimate immigration practioners with regulatory burdens which would only raise the costs for those attorneys complying with the law, but would do little to deter people acting outside the law.
The national organization for immigration attorneys, American Immigration Lawyers Association, "AILA" has released a public statement in opposition, which is quoted below.
By contrast, gratuitous measures contained in the proposed legislation will only deplete the number of well-intentioned, competent professionals from one of the most humanitarian areas of the practice of law.
The misplaced focus on unprincipled lawyers already operating in violation of the existing regulatory scheme misses addressing the real threat: the victimization of vulnerable immigrants by notarios and unscrupulous immigration form-preparers (a fact which is of great concern to law enforcement and borne out by the Bar’s own reports). The bill places onerous business and procedural requirements on immigration lawyers far in excess of what is imposed on other attorneys in California. The attempt to micro-manage the attorney-client relationship impedes the immigration attorneys’ effective representation while the non-attorney perpetrators go undetected and continue to scam immigrants with impunity.
As noted above these requirements are at best redundant and at worst unnecessary, increasing the costs compliant attorneys will face. Rushing into short-sighted proposals to address very real concerns about the potential for large-scale immigration fraud will severely hinder the ability of the private bar and community-based legal assistance providers to serve the legal needs of immigrant communities. An inevitable result of the proposed requirements would make hiring qualified legal help so cumbersome and costly that it will actually drive people away from qualified lawyers and legitimate service providers and into the arms of fraudulent practitioners. Nonprofits who rely on outside attorneys to provide assistance will find fewer lawyers able or willing to provide pro bono and low bono services.
What concerns me the most personally, is the fact that the immigration courts are a federal court, meaning that any attorney licensed in any state has the right to practice before the court. The regulation proposed in this bill would only apply to California licensed attorneys and anyone from outside the state would not be subject to these news rules.