To The Readers Of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel:
As the president of the Houston Bar Association, I have already seen the many ways in which lawyers work to improve our society and help those among us who are less fortunate. I am proud of our profession’s (often selfless) service as we tackle some of society’s greatest challenges.
One such issue, immigration reform, is on the mind of many across our great country. Slowly, the debate is moving from posturing on both sides to more concrete proposals that may actually provide productive solutions. While waiting for that to happen – if it does happen – there is a lot of work that can be done about educating the public and lawyers about people’s rights even under the current law. There is a thirst for this information, and there are several groups across Houston who work hard to get the word out. Last year, 800 residents came to a local Houston event discussing the Deferred Action Program and the potential for becoming a Dreamer.
But legal issues on immigration are more than just Dreamers, they are also issues related to notarios. Notarios or “immigration consultants” may use false advertising and fraudulent contracts to offer to help immigrants obtain lawful status or perform legal functions such as drafting wills or other legal documents. Unfortunately, the less scrupulous notarios take advantage of their customers and, worse still, they often give bad advice, which can damage their customers’ chances of otherwise obtaining citizenship or some other legal status.
Here in Houston, recognized as the most diverse city in the United States, immigration and the related issues are an important part of our city’s fabric. It is the source of growth and culture, but also represents significant challenges for our city. As the bar, we can help with those challenges. For years, the HBA has worked to provide information to Houstonians on issues from consumer fraud to elder law issues. Similarly, there is a need to provide additional information in the immigration arena.
The Houston Bar Association is going to work to address these issues through the following: recruiting knowledgeable attorneys to speak to the public on immigration topics; developing pamphlets and other materials to provide better information to the public about immigration status and notario issues; and, if Congress acts on immigration reform, providing information to attorneys on the new law and its ramification.
There are several nonprofit organizations working on these issues throughout the nation. I encourage the attorneys among us to work with their professional associations to develop similar programs to support these organizations. If it would be helpful, the HBA will make whatever we develop available to other lawyer-related professional organizations across the country to potentially serve as a template.
Lawyers are uniquely qualified to help our communities in many ways, whether we practice corporate law, family law or transactions. If you are interested in finding out about the many community service programs sponsored by the Houston Bar Association, please visit our website, http://www.hba.org, and feel free to contact me or any of our staff members.