“Disruption” appears to be one of the most dangerous words in business today. From taxes to transportation; lodging to law, it seems any industry is just an app or outside-the-box thinker away from an existential crisis.
For immigration attorneys in Colorado, that threat may have been averted, at least for the time being.
In June Gov. John Hickenlooper signed into law House Bill 16-1391, also known as the Immigration Consultants Deceptive Trade Practice, which would make it illegal for anyone without a law degree or federal accreditation to provide immigrants with visa application assistance.
That law forced Ben Ives, who in six years nurtured his company RapidVisa to become the third-fastest-growing company in Colorado Springs, to pick up and move to Las Vegas.
Ives claims he operated within the parameters of the law and never provided legal advice. He said his company was even investigated twice and given a clean bill of health.
Those working in immigration law disagree, however, with one local attorney likening Ives’ business to performing surgery on a person without a medical license.
Annie Skinner, spokesperson for the state attorney general’s office, offered the following regarding the law:
“While there is new legislation, it is not a new law in the sense that it makes something illegal that wasn’t previously illegal,” she said. “What the legislation did was help to explicitly clarify the types of activities that, unless performed by an attorney or someone licensed by the Bureau of Immigration Appeals, would amount to the unauthorized practice of law or an unlicensed activity.”
Skinner said some people were presenting themselves as immigration consultants when they weren’t, and were sometimes irreparably harming vulnerable populations.
“Prior to this legislation being passed, we brought cases against people who were not properly licensed and engaging in immigration consulting for violating the Consumer Protection Act, which makes it a deceptive trade practice to engage in an activity without obtaining the required governmental licenses or permits,” Skinner said. “It is also important to keep in mind, that many of the people who have been effected by this issue are undocumented, and may be much less likely to report potential fraud. We know that this is a widespread issue in our state, but often the people who are providing the potentially fraudulent service are working in the shadows.”
The attorney general’s office will, over the next few months, be reaching out to community leaders and people who may be targeted for these types of fraudulent acts, Skinner said, and provide them additional resources and information.
The AG’s office encourages anyone who feels they may have been a victim of an immigration scam, or want to report suspicious activity, to go to stopfraudcolorado.gov/about-us/file-fraud-report or call 1-800-222-4444. The report can be filed in Spanish, and there will be a Spanish-speaking operator available. Reports also can be filed anonymously.
In the Sept. 2 Colorado Springs Business Journal, hear from Ives and local immigration attorneys discuss RapidVisa, as well as challenges faced by lawmakers in determining what’s allowed in a relatively free market — while still protecting the consumer. Check out the full story this Friday.