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Q&A: The Notary's Role In Protecting Consumers Against Immigration Scams

The nationwide crackdown on ‘Notarios Publicos’ and other immigration scams makes it clear that Notaries must avoid unauthorized practice of law. The Immigration Sectionrecently spoke to Attorney Carlos Batara about how these scams impact immigrant communities, the various resources Notaries can offer to immigrants, and how even well-intended “assistance” can hurt both the immigrant and the Notary.

How have you addressed the “Notario Publico” immigration assistance scams in your law office?

I explain to clients the difference between a legitimate Notary and a Notario, who may post shoddy signs advertising immigration assistance at cheaper rates than an attorney’s. It’s a deceptive practice, because they play on the translation of the word Notario. [For more information, see the NNA’s public awareness brochure, “What Is A Notary Public?”]

Immigrants may be here illegally or be on limited income and, due to higher government fees for petitions, they are desperate. Rather than waiting the appropriate time to do things the right way, they are pulled into scams promising quick fixes. I advise clients that working with a legitimate attorney is a long-term investment. Unfortunately, clients often come to see me after they’ve been a victim of this type of fraud, and by then it’s often too late.

How can Notaries help immigrants avoid immigration scams?

Immigrants will come in with letters to be notarized, often from friends or family members, because some scam artist told them to. These cannot be notarized because the signer of the letter is somewhere else. The notarization must be refused, and you should explain why. They think these notarized letters will help their case, but they won’t fly in court. They at least need certified declaration from the person under penalty of perjury, meaning the person writing the letter is willing to go to jail if they lied.

Notaries can also help educate immigrants on warning signs. For example, if they encounter another Notary who offers to mail or prepare immigration documents, that could be a danger sign.

Lastly, Notaries should contact law enforcement if they suspect an individual is taking advantage of immigrants. Victims of these scam artists often will not report it, and have no recourse themselves. They’re afraid to report it because they could end up facing the negative consequences.

What types of resources can Notaries point clients to for legitimate assistance?

Immigrants need to consult first with a legitimate immigration attorney who can gauge exactly what needs to be done in their case, and when. The attorney can advise immigrants on what kind of paperwork they should have notarized, such as medical records. Notaries can also help by offering clients a list of attorneys in their local bar association, and they can also point them to non-profit organizations that assist low-income individuals.

Finally, Notaries should never complete forms for their immigrant signers, even if they are just trying to be helpful. That act alone can expose them to liability, and it can hurt both parties involved. Immigrants have enough problems already.

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