Ineffective, unqualified “help” is sometimes worse than no help at all. That turned out to be the case for some people who went to Austin non-profit Cristo Vive for help with their immigration status. The organization was shut down recently by the Texas Attorney General’s Office.
The state secured an agreed final judgment and permanent injunction against Austin-based nonprofit Cristo Vive for providing unauthorized legal services in the Travis County area. The judgment assessed more than $500,000 in fines and restitution against the defendants.
The Aug. 30, 2013 final judgment permanently shuts down Cristo Vive and prohibits Director Jorge Sanchez, Treasurer Maria Eugenia Rodarte Sanchez, and President Leslie Bernard “Bernie” Boudreaux Jr. from advertising, performing or accepting money for immigration consulting services.
The defendants were assessed $300,000 in civil penalties and up to $250,000 in restitution to affected clients. The Office of the Attorney General will notify affected customers with instructions on how to submit claims for restitution.
The defendants are also prohibited from soliciting, advertising or providing immigration services; or volunteering to handle money for any nonprofit charitable organization. Director Jorge Sanchez also must surrender his notary commission and stamp.
The state filed an enforcement action against Cristo Vive in August 2012 for violating the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act and the Notary Public Act for unlawfully claiming they were legally authorized to process immigration cases before federal authorities.
State investigators found the defendants were neither licensed attorneys nor accredited to offer immigration-related legal services. The 53rd Judicial District Court in Travis County ordered the defendants to dissolve Cristo Vive and pay restitution to affected clients.
Only licensed attorneys and organizations accredited by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Board of Immigration Appeals are authorized to offer immigration consulting services. Texas notaries public may witness the signing of legal documents, but they are specifically forbidden from providing immigration services unless they have a separate license to practice law.