The State Bar of California is investigating an unlicensed law practice based in El Monte, California, that the State Bar alleges targeted and took advantage of immigrant farmworkers in Santa Maria. The unlicensed law practice, NVE Associates, Inc., is owned and operated by Vincent Enriquez. He first registered NVE with the California Secretary of State on December 31, 2007. However, the NVE website claims the business has been up and running since 1994. The State Bar of California obtained an interim order to shut down the practice, but as of December 3, NVM Associates was still open and taking clients.
The State Bar argued that Enriquez offered legal services to farmworkers in Santa Maria and portrayed himself as an immigration attorney. According to the Ex Parte Application filed by the State Bar, Enriquez claimed he could obtain work permits for several people in Santa Maria and that he could provide them with legal advice. Enriquez then filed asylum applications that led to the initiation of removal proceedings against two of his clients.
One of his clients, Crecencia Camarillo Rojas, paid Enriquez $5,163 to help her obtain a work permit. Rojas said she met Enriquez in Santa Maria at an information session held at her cousin’s home in August 2017. At least eight others were present at the meeting, and two others requested legal services from Enriquez, said Rojas. She recalled Enriquez introducing himself as an attorney and explaining the benefits of filing for political asylum. Enriquez made Rojas believe that she was eligible to apply for political asylum and filed an application on her behalf for an initial fee of $1,500.
A couple of months later, Rojas received a notice from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services regarding her asylum interview. When Enriquez was informed of the notice, he requested an additional $1,800 to prepare Rojas for her interview and appear on her behalf. Enriquez instructed Rojas to lie in her asylum interview if asked about the person who assisted with completing her Asylum Application. “Enriquez did not want me to disclose his name to the interviewing office,” reads Rojas’s declaration. In March 2018, Rojas hired an attorney to represent her husband in a visa petition. It was then that Rojas was informed by her husband’s counsel that Enriquez was not an attorney and that Rojas was not eligible to adjust her legal status through the Asylum Application process. “I feel as if he took advantage of me because I am poor and uneducated,” reads her signed declaration.
According to the Ex Parte Application, “Enriquez is not and never has been registered with the California Secretary of State as a bonded, active Immigration Consultant nor is Enriquez an accredited Immigration representative with the Executive Office for Immigration Review.” Still, neither immigration consultants nor paralegals can represent their clients in court or provide specific legal advice.
Enriquez, who received cease-and-desist letters in 2008, 2009, and 2015 from the state bar, claims that he never made himself out to be an attorney. “Everything indicates I’m a paralegal,” said Enriquez about his business cards and website. Around 45 immigration case files were seized by the State Bar from his El Monte office. The majority of his immigration clients were from Santa Maria, said Enriquez, with only two or three from around El Monte. Enriquez does not have an office in Santa Maria. He acquired clients there after one of his clients moved to Santa Maria, he said. According to Enriquez, he was delivering documents to his client’s home in Santa Maria, where the client happened to be holding a Mary Kay party. “They started asking questions, and I gave them my card and told them I was a paralegal,” said Enriquez.
Enriquez insisted that he is not cheating his clients. “Everything is done by the book,” he said. However, when asked about one of his commercials and whether it was misleading people to think he could provide legal advice, he agreed it was. “Yes, it would be. Yes, yes, yes, I admit …” said Enriquez. “But once clients are here you can clear up those points” he added.
A court date for the case has been set for December 11 in the Los Angeles County Superior Court.