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New York City has fined 76 fee-based immigrant service businesses for violating a new local law intended to protect immigrants from fraud, the Department of Consumer Affairs and the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs announced Tuesday. The law requires the providers to post signs disclosing that they are barred from providing legal advice. It also prohibits the companies from charging for providing or submitting government immigration forms. The law does not affect nonprofit organizations and government employees. Violators, caught after a five-month inspection of 117 companies, will be fined up to $2,500 for a first offense and $5,000 for each further violation. This is the first crackdown seen since the law was passed last fall. But Dina Improta, a DCA spokesperson said inspections are continuing on a regular basis and the DCA is preparing a multi-language guide to distribute to immigrant communities to promote the law. These will be distributed to the Hispanic community in particular with the aim of differentiating between the Spanish phrase notario publico, which is equivalent to a legal advisor in some countries, and the English phrase notary public. Notary publics are not authorized to provide legal advice. The sweep was supported by many immigrants and advocates. “If the city did this earlier, my situation would have been different,” said Zheng, a Chinese immigrant who asked to be identified only by his last name. Zheng lost $4,000 and all his original documents when a Flushing agency that had promised him a green card suddenly closed up shop two years ago. “I really thought they were lawyers, “ said Zheng. “I really did.” (X. Rong)

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