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Attorneys - Professional Responsibility Immigration Attorney - Judicial Sanctions and Criminal Prosecutions

Ethical misconduct by an immigration attorney may subject him or her to a variety of serious sanctions, not only in traditional disciplinary proceedings, but also through the use of judicial sanctions and potential criminal proceedings. In either case, much is at stake, including the attorney's reputation, finances, and ability to earn a livelihood.

Judicial Sanctions

Attorneys can receive judicial sanctions from courts in one of two ways: (1) the imposition of sanctions based on recommendations from a bar disciplinary group, such as a state bar association; and (2) the imposition of sanctions by courts sua sponte, which means on the courts' own initiative, for the violation of judicial processes or court orders. Sanctions can range from informal reprimands and fines to suspension or termination of licenses to practice law. If sanctions involve any type of restriction on an attorney's ability to practice law, he or she will not be able to practice in immigration proceedings. Attorneys are only eligible to practice in immigration proceedings if they are licensed and in good standing.

Criminal Prosecutions

Criminal prosecutions against immigration attorneys may also drastically affect an attorney's ability to practice law. Fortunately, prosecutions tend to result from the same types of offenses, allowing a prudent practitioner to avoid most prosecutions through careful actions.
Three of the most common ethics violations triggering criminal prosecutions of immigration attorneys are sham marriages, labor certifications containing false statements, and other documents and applications containing false statements. Under United States laws, marriage to a U.S. citizen carries many immigration benefits. For instance, a U.S. citizen spouse may file a petition requesting an immigrant visa for his or her alien spouse to immigrate permanently to the U.S. In addition, an alien whose spouse is a U.S. citizen may be eligible for a nonimmigrant spousal visa. This visa is particularly helpful to spouses who wish to live in the U.S. while they wait for their permanent immigrant visas to be issued. Attorneys representing individuals involved in petitioning for these benefits should satisfy themselves that the underlying marriages are legitimate because attorneys have been criminally prosecuted for knowingly using sham marriages.
A second common violation involved in many criminal prosecutions is the use of false information on labor certification applications. Like marriage to a U.S. citizen, U.S. employment carries with it many immigration benefits. For example, at least two of the employment-based immigrant visa categories typically require a Department of Labor certification before lawful permanent resident status may be awarded. These visa categories include aliens with advanced degrees, aliens with exceptional abilities, physicians who will work in underserved areas, skilled workers, and professionals. Misstatements are sometimes made in applications for labor certifications because of the significant immigration benefits that can be obtained. If an immigration attorney knowingly submits applications containing false application, criminal prosecution may follow.
The third type of ethical violation committed in immigration proceedings that commonly results in criminal prosecutions is the submission of applications or documents with false information. As with labor certification applications containing false information, attorneys who knowingly prepare or submit other documents containing false information are subject to prosecution, with potentially devastating professional and financial consequences.