Immigration Section
April 2014 Issue
Content is updated daily

The Do's And Don'ts Of Assisting Immigrants

With federal government making a nationwide, multi-agency push to crack down on the immigration services scams, the spotlight has landed squarely on individuals who take advantage of confusion over the duties and role of U.S. Notaries Public to take advantage of unsuspecting immigrants.

But officials with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) are quick to point out that the problem is not confined to those intentionally defrauding immigrants, such as individuals advertising themselves as Notario Publico.

But even honest, well-intentioned Notaries can inadvertently engage in the unauthorized practice of immigration law, USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas said in a recent interview with the Immigration Section. Mayorkas urged all Notaries to get the training necessary to understand what is and is not legal.

“Overstepping your boundaries can work to the detriment of the person you are seeking to assist and yourself,” he said.

The unauthorized practice of immigration law occurs when an individual who is not an attorney or accredited by the Board of Immigration Appeals attempts to represent someone before immigration proceedings or offers legal advice, said USCIS officials. Mayorkas and others noted that a Notary can cross the line by trying to help an immigrant with the simplest of tasks, such as translating questions on immigration forms.

USCIS officials said that non-attorneys can translate material for an immigrant, but stressed that that the translation must be literal. Notaries often try to help a client understand what a question means or how to frame the answer.

Notaries also can legally help clients by transcribing verbatim the information on immigration forms, but they cannot help choose which forms need to be submitted, USCIS officials said.

Notaries need to understand the limits of their authority under state law, as well. Some states permit Notaries to perform basic transcribing or translating tasks for immigrants. California, for example, allows individuals to register as immigration consultants. Arizona permits certified legal document preparers to offer basic assistance.

Texas specifically prohibits Notaries from offering immigration services, said Teresa Farfan, deputy press secretary for the state Attorney General’s office.

Until recently, Washington state permitted individuals to work as immigration assistants, but their duties were limited to such tasks as translating documents and transcribing information. However, the legislature recently banned immigration assistants because the designation made it too easy to deceive people, Assistant Attorney General Pedro Bernal said.

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