SEATTLE (Legal Newsline) - Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna announced settlements on Tuesday with 10 individuals and companies that allegedly illegally practiced immigration law.

"Too many 'immigration assistants,' who have no legal training whatsoever, appear to offer a helping hand while reaching into immigrants' wallets," McKenna said.

Those settling with McKenna include Immigration Services of America, based in Joyce, Wash.; Irma's, based in East Wenatchee, Wash.; Maricela Montelongo of Pasco, Wash.; First Legal Services/The Legal Helper and Kim Nguyen & Associates of Seattle; Able Communications/Agencia la Morena of Tacoma, Wash.; People Helpers and International Relations/American Assistance Service of Vancouer, Wash.; Servicentro Latino and Panamex Notaria Publica of Everett, Wash.; and the Yakima, Wash.-based Medical and Legal Interpreting Services.

The 10 settlements follow enforcement action taken by the Consumer Protection Division against four immigration services companies last year. Additionally, 24 other immigration assistants are currently being checked out by the division for the alleged unauthorized practice of immigration law.

"Abuse is so widespread that I believe the best solution is to repeal Washington's outdated Immigration Assistant Practices Act and replace it with legislation that truly protects consumers from harm," McKenna said. "The bill I've proposed this year ensures that only qualified individuals provide these important services."

State legislators, at McKenna's request, are considering amending the Immigration Assistant Practice Act so that it would allow only licensed attorneys and those authorized under federal law to assist consumers with immigration matters.

Currently, the law does not require those who wish to work as "immigration assistants" to demonstrate any training or experience in immigration matters.

To that end, Sen Margarita Prentice, D-Seattle, is sponsoring substitute Senate Bill 5023, which recently passed out of the House Rules COmmittee and is expected to receive a floor vote.

SSB 5023, which enjoys widespread support from immigration attorneys and immigrant rights organizations, would provide some of the strongest laws of its kind in the United States.

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