It is understandable that there is a lot of confusion surrounding the current state of immigration reform. It is true that there has been an immigration reform bill introduced in Congress, but it has not been passed by the House of Representatives yet. This means that it is not yet law!
Unfortunately, there are people out there who are taking advantage of this situation. One example of this fraudulent activity is from notarios who are offering misleading advice. There is a common misconception that notarios are lawyers. This is not the case.
Notarios usually specialize in preparing documents. However, many take advantage of immigrants by convincing them to pay for benefits that they are not actually eligible to receive or for benefits that do not even exist.
Notario fraud has been common in immigrant communities for a long time. The line between what is legal and what is not often gets crossed. These businesses do not need law licenses to charge individuals to provide assistance in filling out documents, but they are not allowed to give any legal advice. Unfortunately, many exploit the term “notario,” which is used in Mexico to refer to lawyers.
In the state of Arizona, it is illegal for anyone other than lawyers to give legal advice. In fact, it is a felony offense for a notario to give legal advice. This law has proven difficult to enforce against notarios. Notarios work with immigrants and many of them are wary of filing complaints. Many worry that complaining will lead to consequences related to their immigration status.
Notario fraud is so widespread that the State Bar of Arizona has created a website on the topic. At aznotario.com, a visitor can read about how he can protect himself against notario fraud. The website explains to visitors that while in Mexico and other Latin American countries, notarios are lawyers, it is not the same in the U.S. In the U.S., notarios are only permitted to certify signatures on documents.
This is an extensive problem and cannot be cured with a single website. There are advertisements for notarios in pretty much every Spanish speaking publication. Lisette Flores, an attorney who oversees immigration services at Friendly House, a Phoenix non-profit agency, holds immigration workshops in the area.
Flores hopes to educate the public on the differences between lawyers and notarios. One way she does this is by comparing surgeons to sobadors. In Mexico, a sobador is a massage folk healer. To the attendees, she says “you wouldn't go to a sobador for surgery.” Similarly, you should not go to a notario for legal advice.
Not all notarios are fraudulent. However, it is in your best interest to educate yourself on what a notario is legally allowed to do or not to do. As an immigration attorney in Tucson, I have seen first-hand how notario fraud can negatively impact a person's immigration status.
If you have immigration questions and need to know the current laws, contact a licensed attorney. My staff and I have many years of experience in the areas of immigration and criminal defense. We would be happy to schedule a consultation.