With all the talk of immigration reform, many people are afraid that the immigrant population will be taken advantage of – primarily by notarios.  Sadly, immigrants are often easy targets because they are unfamiliar with the laws in the United States that may protect them and because if something does go wrong, they are scared to report anything to the authorities, for fear that they themselves will be investigated and potentially deported.

So who is a notario? In most Hispanic countries, notarios publicos are well-respected trained legal professionals who provide legal advice and can draft certain legal documents. This is not true in the United States. A notario is not a licensed attorney. It is likely that a notario in the United States has received no legal education. A notario is not a public notary. A public notary in the United States is a witness to the signing of certain documents. Notaries will “notarize” a document to verify that the signature on a page was truly signed by the person in question. That’s all. They are not allowed to give legal advice, appear before the Immigration Courts or USCIS.

It has been our experience that there are two kinds of notarios: (1) those who have the best of intentions, but are ignorant regarding the law and do more harm than good; and (2) those who are looking to make a lot of money off of vulnerable individuals and who do not work at all. Regardless, notarios can do a lot of damage. In addition to commonly charging outrageous fees, they often charge for free immigration forms and file applications that the foreign national isn’t eligible for – at best-wasting money and providing false hope, and at worst placing the person in deportation proceedings.

If you want legal advice, you need to speak with an attorney or a BIA Accredited Representative. Anyone who gives you legal advice, including paralegals, who is not authorized to do so is engaging in the unlawful practice of law. And that’s a criminal offense.

Not all attorneys are reputable and in a future blog post, I’ll talk about what to look for in an immigration attorney.

– Tracie