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Groups Express Concern About UPL in Naturalization Applications

Cite as "AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 96011859 (posted Jan. 18, 1996)"

(Courtesy of Paul Parsons)


T. Alexander Aleinikoff
Executive Associate Commissioner for Programs
Immigration and Naturalization Service
425 Eye St. NW
Washington, DC 20536

December 14, 1995

Dear Mr. Aleinikoff:

We write to urge the Immigration and Naturalization Service to issue a letter to clarify that agencies assisting with naturalization applications, particularly educational testing agencies, are engaged in the practice of law, and must conform to the representation requirements in 8 C.F.R. Section 292.

The growing number of citizenship application workshops conducted by non- legal organizations is alarming. We are concerned by reports from our local affiliate organizations that certain testing entities offer package deals including assistance with naturalization applications. These testing entities rent hotel space for a day or two, advertise broadly, tailor their instruction to the test questions, administer the test, help the applicant fill out the N-400, and then leave town. This constitutes unauthorized practice of law, and a danger to unqualified naturalization applicants.

Section 292 of Title 8, Code of Federal Regulations limits legal representation in immigration matters. In general, representatives must be attorneys or “accredited representatives.” The Office of the General Counsel defines representation broadly, to include selection and preparation of an immigration form. Please see the June 9, 1992 Office of the General Counsel Legal Opinion. The Service has stated that organizations assisting persons to complete naturalization applications would have to satisfy the representation standards of 8 C.F.R. Section 292. Please see the April 26, 1994 applications would have to satisfy the representation standards of 8 C.F.R. Section 292. Please see the April 26, 1994 letter from Lawrence J. Weinig, Acting Associate Commissioner for Examinations.

Testing entitles that encourage and assist persons to file and complete naturalization applications should have to satisfy the representation standards of 8 C.F.R. Section 292. The naturalization applications raises sufficient legal issues to warrant the requirements for qualified representation. Assistance with the N-400 must include screening for legal problems such as failure to register for Selective Service or pay child support; lengthily absences from the United States; and criminal convictions. Applicants risk money an time, as well as possible deportation, when they receive unqualified “legal” assistance.

The testing entities should not be permitted to argue that the assistance with the N-400s is not legal representation, or does not violate Section 292. Disclaimers to state they are not screening or providing legal counsel do not remove the testing entities from the purview of Section 292. According to the OGC’s June 9 1992 memo, even minimal assistance with preprinted INS forms, if it is not representation, “must be in exchange for nominal remuneration, if any, and the assistant must not hold himself or herself as qualified in the area of immigration law and naturalization procedures.”

Some testing entities charge considerate fees, and effectively hold themselves out as qualified to provide the entire line of services leading up to the naturalization interview. An applicant may reasonably believe an N-400 is ready to be filed if it was completed by a government recognized testing agency. An applicant may reasonably believe the approved testing agency is qualified to render legal assistance. Even if the testing entities were not providing legal representation (which they are), they would still be violating Section 292 for overcharging and holding themselves out as qualified in the area of immigration law and naturalization procedures.

These testing entitles can not be allowed to misrepresent to applicants that they provided approved legal assistance, and deny to the INS that they provide legal assistance. Help with preparation of the N-400 constitutes legal representation, and entity that provides such help must be qualified under the regulations.

As the interest in naturalization continues to grow, the Service and the nonprofit immigration services organizations must be vigilant. We ask the Service to work with us to identify an discourage organizations and practitioners who take advantage of our clients by engaging in the unauthorized practice of law. A Service letter to clarify that assistance with N-400s constitutes Section 292 representation will help protect our clients against unqualified representation.

Finally, we understand you are drafting criteria to approve testing entities under 8 C.F.R. Section 312. We urge you to establish the criteria expeditiously, to ensure that only qualified and ethical organizations are approved to offer the citizenship test to our clients.

Your attention to these matters is greatly appreciated.


Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.
Church World Service Immigration and Refugee Program
Immigration and Refugee Services of America
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services
Texas Immigration and Refugee Coalition
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