Week Long Undercover Investigation Targeted ‘Notarios’
to Ensure Consumers are Protected from Predatory Business Practices
|Click the image for a story in Spanish by Hoy.|
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) announced the results of a third investigation of immigration service providers in 2014. This investigation of immigration service providers, often called “notarios,” is part of the Mayor’s effort to protect Chicago consumers from predatory businesses and putting an end to deceptive business practices.
“Protecting Chicago consumers from businesses that prey on vulnerable residents is critical to our goal of making Chicago the most immigrant-friendly city in the world,” said Mayor Emanuel. “Enforcement efforts like this ensure that fraudulent immigration assistance providers do not take advantage of residents looking to achieve the American Dream.”
At the start of 2014, the City determined that a total of 31 immigration service providers were active in the City. An April 2014 investigation found only three percent of those to be compliant with the City ordinance. Earlier this month, BACP Commissioner Maria Guerra Lapacek requested undercover investigations at eight locations. The investigations showed an 88 percent compliance rate with the City ordinance, an 85 percent increase over the first round of investigations. The eight locations investigated in this operation include:
- Kowenia & Alex Services, 3045 N. Milwaukee Ave.
- Sol de Mexico, 4600 S. Ashland Ave.
- Asesoria De Immigracion, 3538 W. Montrose Ave.
- Las Americas Travel Inc., 2822 N. Milwaukee Ave.
- Servicios Chihuahua, 2715 W. Lawrence Ave.
- Polamer, 6140 N. Milwaukee Ave.
- Agencia Hispanoamericana, 4234 N. Cicero Ave.
- Casa Sanchez y Asociados, 1248 W. Chicago Ave.
From June to October of 2014, the Business Compliance Enforcement division conducted follow-up tests on all immigration service providers that were non-compliant in the April project. All issues that were identified in April had been resolved, other than the issues that could only be addressed with an undercover investigation – overcharging, legal advice, and disclosures and contracts.
Investigators posed as potential customers to determine if all operational conditions were followed, and found only one location, Kowenia & Alex Services, 3045 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, to be in violation of the City ordinance for providing legal advice and for a contract violation.
“I am pleased to see the compliance rate increase,” said Commissioner Guerra Lapacek. “However, one violation is one too many, and we will continue investigations to ensure consumers are not being taken advantage of by businesses.”
In May 2012, City Council passed the Mayor’s licensing reform ordinance that requires immigration assistance providers to provide and display specific disclosures regarding cost and legal issues in multiple languages as well as a customer’s rights to file a complaint. The city license limits the services the provider may offer and requires a detailed written contract be given to the customer prior to any assistance.
Consumers who encounter immigration assistance providers in violation of the ordinance should file a consumer fraud complaint by calling 311. All complaints of these businesses charging exorbitant prices, providing unauthorized legal advice and promising service results that would be impossible to obtain are forwarded to the BACP. The complainant will receive an affidavit asking for a detailed explanation to initiate an investigation.
Residents seeking third-party assistance in navigating the immigration process have three options:
- A licensed attorney or legal intern who is employed by and under the direct supervision of a licensed attorney may render services in immigration matters.
- Non-for profit agencies accredited by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) may assist aliens in immigration proceedings before the Executive Office for Immigration Review’s immigration courts and BIA, or before the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), or both. All accredited representatives must be designated by an organization that is recognized by the Board.
- Immigration assistance service provider businesses licensed by the city.
In addition, the BACP recommends avoiding any immigrant assistance provider who claims to have special influence with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) other government agencies, or promises that immigration status can be “arranged” for additional money and/or represents themselves with titles such as “immigration consultant.”
For the full immigration assistance laws, consumers should visit:http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/bacp/supp_info/immigration_assistancelaws.html.
In addition to passing new ordinances that impose tough but fair consumer protections, since taking office, Mayor Emanuel has expanded relationships with state and federal consumer protection agencies and restructured the City’s inspection protocols. Mayor Emanuel has also taken numerous steps to support citizenship efforts in Chicago including through a partnership with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to host citizenship workshops and provide information on the naturalization process at select Chicago Public Libraries. These “Citizenship Corners” and “Citizenship Hubs” are one of the first in the nation to provide comprehensive resources to help residents obtain guidance on the citizenship process.