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Justice Department launches database to deter 'Notario' fraud

Immigration-Docs.jpgThe U.S. Department of Justice has launched a new online registration program for immigration law practitioners that will help deter immigration services fraud — often involving individuals advertising themselves as Notarios Publicos, who charge immigrants thousands of dollars for fraudulent legal services.

Attorneys and accredited immigration representatives who represent clients before federal immigration courts must now complete a two-step registration process for the new "eRegistry" by first creating an online profile and then appearing in person at a designated location to be physically identified, registered, and issued a unique ID number. All registrants must provide proof of accreditation.

"Nobody really knows the extent of fraud, but we know it's significant," Juan Osuna, the Director of DOJ's Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), the agency overseeing the eRegistry, said in an interview with Federal News Radio. "Every immigration agency — whether it's here at DOJ or at the Homeland Security Department — deals with this on a daily basis. Whatever protection agencies can put in place to make that conduct harder would be very beneficial."

In many Spanish-speaking nations, Notarios are highly trained legal professionals akin to attorneys. The DOJ eRegistry will allow authorized attorneys and representatives to electronically file documents on behalf of their clients and adds additional security against scammers posing as attorneys or "Notarios" who target immigrants. These scammers typically have no legal qualifications in the U.S., but steal hundreds or even thousands of dollars from clients without providing actual services. Any attorneys or representatives who are not registered with the new system by December 10 will be suspended from appearing before immigration courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals.

"Notarios or 'immigration consultants' have become an increasingly serious problem in immigrant communities throughout the United States," said U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida. He and Rep. Bill Foster of Illinois have introduced legislation imposing stiff jail sentences on individuals convicted of providing fraudulent immigration services. Their bill, HR 2936, also would permit immigrants victimized by fraud to resubmit application materials.

David Thun is the Assistant Managing Editor with the National Notary Association.

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