Legal Advice Hotline for Mexican Immigrants

Vida En El Valle, News Report, Juan Esparza Loera Posted: Jul 02, 2007

FRESNO -- If a Mexican national gets a sales pitch from an immigration consultant who promises that for a few hundred dollars he can deliver a work permit, or if an undocumented resident witnesses a crime but doesn't want to report it over fear of being deported, Mexican Consul Martha Elvia Rosas has the perfect solution.

JURIMEX, a toll-free number that connects the caller with experienced lawyers based in Fresno and Bakersfield, is up and running. The program, which has already been launched in Los Ángeles and Northern California, is available Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

"The callers will get information that is precise, certain and valuable," said Rosas at a press conference last Wednesday to introduce the service that went into effect this week. "The community needs to know its rights, but also its obligations. They need to be better informed."

Robert E. Pérez, who has served as legal adviser to the Mexican Consulate in Fresno since 1975, offered examples of how the free service can prevent legal or monetary headaches for Mexican nationals.

"Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation out there," said Pérez. "For example, if you're injured at work you do not have a right to worker's compensation because you only worked two days. The truth is, if you are injured in the first minute of work, you are covered by worker's compensation."

Pérez, whose office will provide the service, said people can also call with immigration questions and find out if they are spending their money foolishly on immigration consultants who may promise them one thing only to find out the applicant never qualified for a work visa or other legal status.

Bakersfield attorney Thomas Brill, whose office will service the southern area of the Mexican Consulate's Fresno district, said undocumented Mexican nationals can also seek solid answers about dealing with law enforcement.

"A lot of times, people are afraid to ask questions or even report a crime for fear that doing so will get them deported," said Brill, who speaks fluent Spanish.

Pérez and Brill said their offices will refer callers to other lawyers if they can't provide the correct answer. A lawyer typically charges between $30 and $500 for such consulations. Fresno lawyers typically charge $250 an hour, said Pérez.

Rosas didn't have an exact cost for the service to the Mexican Consulate, but said it was minimal. Pérez and Brill were not sure what their costs for installing the telephone lines were.

Rosas emphasized the service does not provide legal representation, only answers to legal questions. She said people can call the Mexican Consulate to see a lawyer employed by the Protection Department.

The number is (800) 440-7089 in Fresno, Mariposa, Madera, Merced, Tulare and Kings counties.

The number is (866) 327-9661 in Kern and Inyo counties.

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