Under the bill, the industry, described by Padavan as thriving but unchecked, would be required to provide service contracts, post bonds, and list in both their offices and in advertising what is allowed by law.
"Immigration assistants provide needed services to those trying to navigate the labyrinth of federal regulations required for visa applications, green cards, citizenship and employment papers," Padavan said. "However, some of these service providers are taking advantage of immigrants, who are often too intimidated to go to the authorities."
The bill prohibits the services from practicing law, allowing them to only transcribe responses from government agencies, translate instructions and questions on forms, help obtain documents such as birth certificates, arrange for medical testing and notarize signatures if so authorized. Otherwise, a business must refer their client to an attorney.
While the bill does not provide for an agency to monitor the businesses, it does provide the legal framework for an aggrieved customer to bring his case before state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, a representative for Padavan said.
A similar piece of legislation, sponsored by Brian McLaughlin (D-Flushing) passed the state Assembly in an unanimous vote in February. After that approval, the bill went to the Senate, where it gained a 55-0 vote in favor. Gov. George Pataki must now sign the legislation to make it a law.
McLaughlin said the legislation was much needed, particularly for the immigrants in his district.
"I have heard countless stories of heartless individuals, usually from the same homeland, able to convincingly deceive them by promising them documents such as green cards and marriage licenses, which they are unable to legally provide," he said, calling it an "outrage" and a "disincentive to positive assimilation."
In June 2003, Peter Cheung, a Flushing businessman who offered immigration consultations, was sentenced to six months in jail for fraud after taking $35,000 and failing to produce a promised green card. One month later, Liangmin Chen, also known as Gui Zhong Chen, was indicted after paying undercover officers in the hope of getting work documents, though his clients expected full green cards.
The cases came after articles in the Chinese press about similar scams prompted Queens District Attorney Richard Brown to investigate the problem and McLaughlin and Padavan to push for legislation.
Padavan's efforts in immigration issues have not always enjoyed such wide support. On April 19, he sponsored a bill that would require state and local police to report to federal authorities the arrest of anyone suspected of committing a crime who could be an illegal immigrant. The bill passed the Senate with a 48-14 votes but was then sent to committee in the Assembly, where it died in a previous session.
The Bellerose lawmaker also served as chairman of the Senate's Majority Task Force on Immigration, and he and other state officials sued the federal government in 1995 for failing to keep out illegal immigrants, a lapse they said cost their states money. The same year he also introduced legislation to prevent the state from using its funds for health, education and welfare services for illegal aliens. Padavan's latest initiative, however, is endorsed by groups such as the New York Immigration Coalition.
"There's a very big problem in terms of people being taken advantage of," said Dan Smulian, director of training and legal services for the organization. "The services are out there and to pretend they don't exist doesn't serve anyone."
Smulian said the coalition supports the ban against the service companies acting like lawyers, but said immigrants still need an inexpensive and reliable option.
"We think that the real solution is to provide proper funding for immigration legal services," he said.
Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at news@times
©2004 Community News Group
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