Say "NO" to Notarios
Notario Fraud - a Consumer Protection Issue
In the context of US immigration law, "notarios" are not lawyers and are not authorized to provide any legal services related to immigration. In some Latin American countries, the term "notario publico" can denote attorneys with special legal credentials and many notarios in the US encourage this confusion for their own benefit when they advertise their services in the Hispanic community. The title is not recognized in the United States. It is commonplace to see such business advertise themselves as "translation services," "immigration help" or other similar words when marketing unlawful immigration services, not just in Hispanic or Latino communities but in many different ethnic and language groups.
The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) is the government body that conducts administrative hearings to determine whether aliens who are charged by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with violating immigration law should be ordered removed from the United States.
Federal regulations (EOIR) specify who can represent aliens in immigration proceedings: attorneys, recognized organizations, accredited representatives, other qualified representatives, and free legal services providers. No one else can represent aliens in immigration proceedings. Notarios, visa consultants, and immigration consultants cannot represent aliens in immigration proceedings.
Many Notarios Practicing Law Illegally
Notario Publicos and other non-lawyer immigration services often violate the law every day by in fact, practicing law. It is very difficult to help someone with on an immigration form, for instance without crossing the line into practicing law. As soon as there is a question on the form that needs some legal interpretation, however small, it steps into the area of the law. Individuals go to notarios to look for legal help but the reality is that they are in fact receiving legal advice from someone with no license and no accountability.
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No Recourse for Negligence
Notarios and other non-legal practitioners, are not governed by any regulatory body and do not face discipline, malpractice or loss of a license if mistakes are made. There is no requirement to stay educated on the complex, changing state of immigration laws.
If immigrants take the advice of a notario and it ends up being negligent, or illegal, there is normally no recourse. If a client was wronged by an unscrupulous lawyer, the client does have legal and financial recourse. The consequences of unprofessional representation can include imprisonment, deportation, or being permanently barred from entering the US. Couples or families can end up separated from each other in the process if one or more members are deported.
Immigration is a very complex area of the law. Many immigration cases require filing petitions to any or all of the US Departments of Labor, State and Homeland Security. Although immigration attorneys are often seen to be just filling out forms, but in fact, most often they must guide their clients through complex legal issues.
Protect Your Family's Dreams
- Be suspicious if someone claims to know about secret new immigration law or claims to have special influence with a government agency
- Check to ensure that your immigration lawyer has a license
- Always get proof that your papers have been filed
- Insist on a written contract that spells out all fees and expenses
- Don't let anyone "find" you a sponsor or spouse to get you a Green Card — it's illegal
Washington State Bill Prohibiting Non-lawyer Immigration Law Services Passes Senate
Washington State Senate Bill 5023, prohibits the practice of non-lawyers providing immigration services for compensation that constitutes the practice of law. The law prohibits non-lawyers from performing services such as advising someone on filling out government forms or interpreting the meaning of questions on government forms in immigration matters. In addition, the bill prohibits a non-lawyer from representing that he/she is a lawyer, immigration assistant, consultant, or profession with legal skills in the area of immigration law.
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Eric's involvement in SSB 5023
AILA, (American Immigration Lawyers Association)is the national association of over 11,000 private and non-profit attorneys, law professors, and law students engaged or interested in immigration law.
As a member of the AILA, Eric was part of working sessions at the end of 2011, with the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General of Washington to help determine what services if any, might be performed in the immigration area other than those which require an attorney or attorney supervision. These sessions were related to bill SSB 5023 (in Washington state to limit non-lawyer immigration services. After studying the matter, the group concluded that immigration law is a far too complex and rapidly changing area for non-lawyers to contribute to because of the risks of imprisonment, separation and deportation that could be brought about by inadequate legal advice.
Eric became involved with the committee's work because as an immigration law practitioner he had dealt with the aftermath of poor work done by notarios. He had seen numerous cases where assistants held themselves out as attorneys and gave advice that put vulnerable people in unfortunate situations. Because the assistants were not attorneys, there was no legal recourse for the victims. He is striving to encourage more enforcement and messaging on the issue to increase awareness in the immigrant community.
The legislation was passed in the Washington State senate in early 2012. SSB 5023 will change state law regarding immigration services. It prohibits the use of the misleading term of "notario" and "notario publico" and eliminates the option of filing as an "immigration assistant" with the state and imposes additional legal consequences for making false representations about being skilled in immigration law.
SB 5023 would end the longstanding practice in Washington state of permitting persons registered as "immigration assistants" or "notarios publicos," to advise others on issues of immigration law and prepare immigration petitions and filings for profit. The bill, only permits licensed attorneys and those permitted to do so under federal law from advising another on an immigration issue for profit, or from engaging in any activity that constitutes the practice of law in an immigration matter. The law also allows persons injured by a violation of the law to obtain $1,000.00 minimum damages, or actual damages, in an action brought under it, as well as all remedies normally available in a private consumer protection act action, including attorney's fees.
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