What is a Notario, and What is Notario Fraud?
Notario Fraud takes many forms, but in its essence, it involves a ‘notario’ representing that they are licensed or otherwise authorized to practice law or prepare legal forms.
In the United States, a ‘notary public’ typically witnesses signatures, verifies a signer’s true identity and confirms that the signer knows what they are signing. Notaries are to be impartial, may not act in situations where they have a personal interest, and they verify signatures of documents under oath. To become a notary public, all you are required to do is fill out a form and pay a fee to your state of residence. To be a notary public, you do not have to go to law school or college, nor do you have to have any experience in immigration law.
In many Latin American countries, ‘notario publicos’ (translated to ‘notary public’ in English) are authorized to practice law, are attorneys, and have a broader range of duties, including preparing legal documents.
Problems arise when a notary in the US holds themselves out to be a ‘notario publico,’ and misrepresent themselves to be qualified to offer legal services.
Notario Fraud may take various forms, including representations that the notario:
- Is an attorney;
- Is a Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) certified representative;
- Is authorized to prepare immigration forms for submission to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS);
- May provide legal advice on an applicant’s immigration options;
- Is a paralegal or legal assistant; OR
- May draft other legal documents.
Immigrants may go to a ‘notario publico’ because they are cheaper than an attorney, or they do not believe that they need an attorney. Other applicants may seek the services of a ‘notario publico’ believing that the person is authorized to practice law. In both cases, ‘notario publicos’ are dangerous and can wreak havoc on an applicant’s case.
Dangers of Notario Fraud
Misrepresenting one’s credentials to give legal advice or prepare legal forms is dangerous, and in many states, illegal. Entrusting your immigration case to a notario can have severe negative repercussions on an applicant’s immigration case, life, and even liberty. Some dangers of using a notario are:
- Out of Date Forms: USCIS periodically issues new editions of its forms and may mandate that an applicant use the new form. If you file an outdated form, which USCIS is no longer accepting, your application will be rejected.
- Incomplete Forms: Notarios may fill forms out incorrectly, or incompletely. An attorney will attach Form G-28 (entering their appearance as your attorney) to your application, acknowledging their role in the preparation of the forms. A notario will not attach a Form G-28.
- Missed Deadlines: If your case is time-sensitive, and your notario misses a deadline, you may have no recourse. A few examples include:
- Responding to a ‘request for evidence’ by the required date;
- Child Status Protection Act (CSPA): If you or a family member will ‘age out’ for an immigration benefit, then your application must be filed in a timely and expeditious manner. An attorney can tell you whether you are in danger of ‘aging out’ and if the CSPA protects you. A notario is likely to miss this.
- Filing for a Benefit for Which you are not Eligible: If your case is not screened, or screened incorrectly, you could easily file for a benefit for which you are not eligible. At a minimum, this is a waste of your time and money. However, you also run the risk of being placed in removal proceedings if your application is denied.
- Misrepresentations: An attorney will fill out your applications for you and ensure that all information is consistent and truthful. Working with a notario increases the risk that you may make a misrepresentation on a form if you do not fully understand the questions or the form itself.
- Missed Opportunities: An attorney will screen your case for all forms of relief available to you. Most notarios simply fill out forms or provide legal advice, which they are not authorized to provide. This leads to potential missed opportunities. For example, an attorney will screen a marriage-based green card applicant for U-visa eligibility. The attorney will be able to explain the pros and cons of each benefit so that the client can make an informed decision as to which option to pursue. Notarios cannot do this.
Consequences of Notario Fraud
- Civil & Criminal Penalties: Applicants may face civil, criminal, and immigration penalties for erroneously misrepresenting facts, or filing frivolous applications.
- Removal Proceedings: Applicants should always be informed of the potential risks involved in filing an immigration petition. A licensed attorney will explain the dangers of filing, advise you on whether you are at risk of being placed in removal proceedings, and also review any defenses to deportation that you may have-all before filing. A notario will not do this.
- Lost Money: Immigrants may lose thousands of dollars paying for the services of an individual whom they believe to be a licensed attorney.