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How Notaries can help immigrants find the right assistance


An estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S presently need assistance with life-changing immigration matters. Unfortunately, whenever a new immigration policy is announced or debated, scammers come out of the woodwork to take advantage of unsuspecting immigrants by offering bogus help with their legal status.

All too often, swindlers exploit confusion over the role of U.S. Notaries, which begs the question: Where can foreign-born residents find the appropriate assistance?

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, only attorneys or individuals trained in immigration matters — called accredited representatives — can give immigrants legal advice about their options, assist them with their paperwork and supporting documentation, or represent them in dealings with the agency.

Finding a qualified immigration attorney  

U.S. immigration law is so complex it’s often compared to federal tax law, but the stakes are higher and the consequences more severe.

“Immigration law and regulation is very unforgiving,” said Reid Trautz, Director of Practice and Professionalism for the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), in a recent interview. Even a simple inadvertent mistake, such as a box checked wrong on a form, can get a person deported.

For that reason, many immigrants might benefit from the assistance of a qualified immigration attorney. AILA, which has an active membership of 13,500 attorneys, has an easy-to-use “Find an Immigration Lawyer” service available to the public. Search categories include legal specialties, location and languages spoken so immigrants can find exactly what they need.

The federal government does not provide free legal representation to immigrants. However, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) maintains a list of attorneys who offer their services to indigent immigrant clients at no charge.

Finding an accredited representative

To provide expanded access to low-cost legal assistance, the Justice Department has established the Recognition and Accreditation Program, which is run by the agency’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR).

Under EOIR, federal authorities approve non-profit groups — such as immigrant rights organizations, religious and community groups and legal aid organizations — as recognized organizations authorized to provide legal assistance to immigrants.

Accredited representatives of a recognized organization must be individually approved by the federal government. There are roughly 1,600 accredited representatives across the country, and many of them are Notaries.

In order to become accredited, an employee of a recognized organization serves what amounts to an apprenticeship, working closely with experts in immigration law and procedures for a number of years. Accreditation must be renewed every three years. (Representatives who leave their recognized organizations lose their accreditation.)

The EOIR maintains lists of recognized organizations and accredited representatives, which are updated on a regular basis.

Non-legal immigration consultants

A handful of states — California, Georgia, Michigan, New York and Utah — allow non-attorneys to provide limited non-legal assistance with immigration matters.

Depending on the state, they can be called immigration consultants, immigration assistance providers or similar titles. With the exception of Michigan, service providers are required to obtain a surety bond, and most states require them to pass background checks.

In general, immigration consultants are allowed to perform basic tasks, including:

  • Translating or transcribing a client’s answers on USCIS forms
  • Getting copies of supporting documents
  • Performing clerical duties

They cannot, however, offer legal advice or assistance because that would be engaging in the unauthorized practice of law.

While many people are legally permitted to help immigrants, there also are unscrupulous people looking to take advantage of them. That’s why it’s important to verify the credentials of any potential service provider and avoid becoming a victim of a scam.

Anyone who encounters a potential immigration services scam should report it.


Additional Articles:

Three questions for Notaries to ask when dealing with foreign-language issues

Anti-'Notario' efforts expanding to different nationalities

States cracking down on Notary advertising, requiring non-attorney disclaimers

Q&A: The Notary's role in protecting consumers against immigration scams


Add your comment

Susan Hirst

07 Apr 2015

Thank you for this information. A dear friend of mine needs an immigration attorney to represent her. Your tip about the Department of Justice maintaining a list of qualified attorneys who offer their services free of charge was very helpful.

Katie Jones

08 Jun 2015

Thank you for this article concerning helping immigrants find the right assistance. I have met many people who have immigrated over, but the immigration process take quire some time to fully complete. You are right hat immigration law in the U.S. is very complex, so I just so happen to share the same sentiments about wanting to find a qualified immigration attorney or service in order for the process to be handled professionally.

Whitney Black

11 Mar 2016

I was unaware of the complexity of these forms and the immediate deportation consequences. I've been scammed on several occasions but not with something so life altering as this. I think your tips and advice are very helpful, thank you for posting about the different ways notaries can help immigrants!

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