Recently, Manny Rios was awarded with the highest award from the Washington State Bar Association. With attorney, Deborah M. Niedermeyer, they received the award for creating an unprecedented case against notarios, unlicensed law practitioners. This is what the NW Lawyer Magazine had to say on the award’s behalf:
This award is the WSBA’s highest honor and is given for a recent, singular achievement. It is awarded to invidividuals only — both lawyers and non-lawyers.
This award is in recognition of Deborah M. Niedermeyer and Manuel F. Rios’ work in filing the first-ever lawsuit against unlicensed immigration consultants under Washington’s 2011 Immigration Services Fraud Prevention Act.
Unlicensed immigration law practitioners, also known as “notarios,” prey on unsophisticated immigrants with limited knowledge of English and the U.S. legal system. The processing of immigration cases by these unlicensed practitioners of law violates both criminal and civil laws in the state of Washington. Due to errors and false statements by these unlicensed practitioners, their victims are often left exposed to serious adverse legal consequences, including detention, deportation, and/or permanent separation from family in the United States. Moreover, because unlicensed immigration law practitioners frequently claim or imply that they are attorneys, their operations undermine the reputation of and the public’s confidence in the legal profession, especially within vulnerable immigrant communities.
In 2014, Niedermeyer and Rios filed a consumer protection suit on behalf of a family which had been defrauded and seriously injured by a pair of notarios. After over 80 hours of pro bono representation, Niedermeyer and Rios reached a settlement with the defendants, who agreed to pay in full what the law anticipates: triple damages to the plaintiffs, plus costs and attorneys’ fees. Niedermeyer and Rios have donated 100 percent of their attorney fees to WA-AILA to set up a revolving fund to finance service of process and filing fees for future cases, to help promote the use of a “private attorney general” strategy to protect vulnerable immigration clients, and to educate immigration lawyers on how to successfully file similar consumer protection actions.
Niedermeyer is a contract attorney specializing in immigration, consumer protection, civil rights and Indian law. Her pro bono work includes nonprofit corporate governance advice and autism-related civil rights issues. She is the chair of the WA-AILA Professional Responsibility and Consumer Protection Committee.
Rios, a partner at the firm of Rios & Cruz, P.S. in Seattle, has practiced immigration law since 1997 and has been a consultant attorney for the Mexican Consulate in Washington for immigration matters since 2002. In 2009, Rios received the Latino Bar Association of Washington’s Miembro Exceptional Award for his pro bono work against notarios in the Latino community, and in 2013 he was awarded the Premio Othli by the Mexican government for his work on behalf of Mexican immigrants in the United States.
In November’s AIM, AILA members and recipients of the Washington State Bar Association’s 2015 Award of Merit Manuel Rios and Deborah Neidermeyer discuss winning their lawsuit under the Washington State Immigration Services Fraud Prevention Act and how members can replicate their success.
March 7, 2015
By Alexis Krell
“I think that, but for our intervention and the cooperation of (the federal Department of Homeland Security) to help these people who were victimized, that yes, he would have faced definite deportation,” said Chavez’s attorney, Manuel Rios.
Chavez’s wife and three minor children have legal permanent residency in the United States, and the 41-year-old Midland man hoped several years ago that the Lakewood company, E.C. New Horizons, could help him get the same.
“He’s just a guy that’s trying to be with his family,” Rios said.
Now Chavez is trying to avoid deportation to Mexico, and recently settled a lawsuit against New Horizons, which allegedly prepared his paperwork and gave him unauthorized legal advice.
Chavez’s case for legal permanent residency was complicated to begin with because of two prior deportations, and the actions of New Horizons had him dangerously close to being sent back to Mexico, Rios said.
No one answered the phone when The News Tribune called the company several times last week, and no one answered the door when a reporter stopped by Thursday.
According to Chavez’s lawsuit:
The business is registered with the state Department of Revenue under the name of Edwin Cruz as a portrait photography studio and under the name Mauricio Terry as an administrative management consulting service.
A Better Business Bureau accreditation sign was in the window of the office at one point, though E.C. New Horizons is not accredited by the BBB.
An online ad on the Lakewood-JBLM Patch website used a statement from Terry, saying the business provides “consultation services for immigrants who are looking to start the process of gaining permanent residency, citizenship or a Work Authorization Document.”
The ad also said: “Rather than attorney fees, we provide the extra service.”
In 2011, Cruz and Terry were accused of misleading advertising and agreeing to give legal advice and prepare immigration-related documents for customers. They settled with the state Attorney General’s Office for $2,000 in civil penalties and $6,000 in attorney fees and legal costs.
Univision Report: Manuel Rios discusses his case representing a man who was nearly deported after hiring a “notario”, or business offering immigration legal services without a license to practice law, to prepare immigration applications. The report warns of the risks of hiring immigration service providers who are not licensed attorneys, especially as immigrants consider applying for benefits under President Obama’s recently announced executive action programs.