Immigrant Families Should Beware Of “Notarios” Scams

Undocumented Latino immigrants have been falling victims of scams that involve “notarios.” These “notarios” claim to be able to assist the families in gaining legal status. Immigrant families have a misconception on the word “notarios.” Notarios in the United States, do not necessarily have to be a legal professional as in their countries. The main issue is that Latino immigrants are not aware of the difference, thinking it means what they think.

Undocumented DREAMer Astrid Silva, recounts getting properly dressed and her father not attending work, in order to be present in an office, in hopes of getting a green card. Unfortunately, once again her family was scammed of their family savings.

This family did not have the means to be able to have the luxury of not going to work and taking the trip, but in hopes their life would change they did it. Under the impression they were being helped by legal immigration experts, her father lost $11,000. Not only was her family a victim of this fraud, but many other families fell into the same trap. They all believed that would be the day, in which their lives would change by finally getting the green card.

President Barack Obama was introduced by Silva, in his Las Vegas speech. This speech took place after he announced he would use his executive authority to prevent millions from being deported.

Millions of families will be eligible for the immigration executive action, promised by Obama. Immigrant families are the prime targets, and this makes them ineligible for immigration benefits that they could have been eligible in the future. Lawyers and other legal experts are prepared to help immigrants who have been a part of scams, whenever there is a potential action or immigration legislation rumor, reports senior managing attorney, Michelle Mendez.

How The “Notarios” Scams Operate

The “notarios” secretaries’ remain telling immigrants, their “notario” will still help them, regardless of him serving a sentence.It is not an easy task to help save immigration cases once they have fallen victims of notario frauds, explains Mendez.

The immigrant community is reluctant to discuss their situation with others. Some fear being deported, and instead remain quiet. The fraud becomes a tricky subject because, of the regulations and laws. In recent years, there has been an effort to stop “notario” fraud. The fraud usually starts with the loss in translation. In Mexico, the word “notario publico” means a legal professional. Here in the United States, that word has a completely other connotation. A notary public, is a person that almost anyone can be in the United States.

In the state of Texas, the state law does not allow for the proper translation of the word “Notary Public.” Silva’s father visited a notario, who was working under an out of state attorney to get the paperwork filled out, in the mid 1990’s. During this visit, her father got a temporary protected status, as well as a work permit. In the meantime, he was to wait for a final approval. The office applied for an asylum program claiming he was Nicaraguan.

There was a problem with the paperwork, that resulted in her father’s work permit being revoked and placing him in deportation proceedings. The office had reported he was Nicaraguan, when he was really Mexican. Upon presenting documents showing he was Mexican, this alerted immigration officials. The paralegals working for her father, did not alert him immigrant officials were sending letters on behalf of his case. The paralegals did not give him the deportation orders. They instead chose to keep that unknown, to be able to continue charging money. The explanation given for the slow paperwork process, was always that it was a long wait. Silva’s father continued visiting the notarios, until he ran out of money. In 2002, he did not have the means to keep paying the notario.

One day the family woke up, to their father being gone. All that was left was his coffee and his lunch pail in the driveway. In September 14, 2011, the family was left confused, thinking their father would have been fine. Her father had been placed in an immigration detention center. The father was able to report his case to the state bar, but was left without proof of his claims. By then, the supervising attorney was dead and the records were not available. Even so, the notario continued practicing.

Today, Silva’s father is still under the deportation order. There is hope that he will be able to qualify for a deferred deportation, with President Obama’s executive action. Her brother is a U.S. citizen which could help her father’s legal case. Out of state attorneys are practicing federal immigration law, following a loophole. The law is that attorneys do not need to be licensed to practice federal immigration law in a state. Therefore, paralegals and notarios work under the license of an attorney from out of state.

Nevada Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, took Silva’s father’s case. Flores was able to get the assembly to pass a law, to help end this fraud against immigrants. The law states notaries public, multi services businesses, and paralegals must be regulated as document preparers.Those who are document preparers must have a proper, valid, business license. In addition, they must pay a $50,000 bond and register with the state. These are the procedures immigrants should check before getting services. The document preparer should meet all of these requirements.

Flores explains that education is not a part of her law, and that the key is to promote public awareness.

It is possible that Republicans will not permit Obama’s executive order to be implemented. Families should consult with a lawyer, who can take a look at their particular case. A decision should be made on whether it is worth taking a risk to apply. President Obama’s immigration reform and the Senate’s comprehensive immigration bill propose to have higher penalties for notarios who scam immigrants.

The American Immigration Lawyer’s Association’s director of the practice and professional center, Reid Trautz, says scammers scam immigrants whenever there is a change in the immigration policy. They take advantage of the immigration policy changing. AILA has started an anti-notario fraud website as well as distributing digital flyers. These digital flyers are available in the immigrant’s languages, including Spanish and Portuguese. Soon there will be digital flyers available in Chinese and maybe in Vietnamese.

The Committee for Immigration Reform was formed by the Catholic Legal Immigration Network and the American Bar Association. It has been around for two years and they have a website. Allison Posner, an advocacy director for CLINIC, states that the community should be aware that they can be hurt by not getting help from a licensed attorney. Non-profit organizations can also help immigrations with their applications.

The Board of Immigration Appeals has requirements that lawyers and accredit representatives, must meet in order to provide legal services.
Those who need legal advice should get it only from persons who are licensed and meet the requirements. The immigrant community must learn the real meaning of the word “notario” here in the United States. Special caution should be taken whenever there is a proposed immigration reform. This is the time in which immigrants are more vulnerable to fall into a scam. To avoid this, immigrants have to be extremely cautious of who they trust and who they give their hard earned money to. A person who claims to be licensed to help, but cannot prove it should send a red alert flag. It is up to the government to protect the immigrant community by helping them to not fear speaking up. With the upcoming possible immigration reform that will affect 4 to 5 million people, they must have the right legal advice.

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