The Infamous Notario Fraud and Resources to Stop It

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Written by Carmen Cornejo

“Notorious” would be a better word than “notarios.”

Notarios can seem like lifesavers. They promise to get undocumented immigrants legal status and jobs at a fraction of the cost of some lawyers. They often work in sleek offices, speak Spanish, and say they have connections inside government agencies. They produce stacks of papers as evidence they’ve helped others in the same predicament.

But they are frauds.

There have been numerous incidences of notarios extorting money from undocumented immigrants, threatening to report them if they don’t pay, then disappearing without providing the services they promised.

Hispanics are often confused by the role of notarios because in Latin American countries a notario is a lawyer, but in the U.S. a notario is not necessarily a lawyer. In the U.S., it is against the law for notarios to provide immigration advice – even on filling out forms. Notarios who provide immigration services are, in short, scam artists who take money from trusting immigrants, do not deliver a service, and can complicate the immigrant’s legal case.

Immigration law is complex and requires a trained professional to navigate the particularities of each situation. Many immigrants have lost their case because they trusted a person not qualified to deal with it.

There are two types of professionals who are qualified to assist immigrants: immigration lawyers and accredited representatives.

Immigration lawyers need to be in good standing with the state bar association. This regulating body publishes a list of reliable professionals and has processes in place to report and punish unethical lawyers.

Accredited professionals (who are not lawyers but assist in certain immigration processes) must work for a recognized organization and be authorized by the Board of Immigration Appeals. In some cases, law students part of a law school clinic or a nonprofit organization can represent a person. These students are supervised by a lawyer or law school so they can assist immigrants properly.

Moreover, lawyers from other countries are not licensed in the U.S. to practice law or provide immigration services in the United States. The practice of law in Latin American countries is very different.

The website offers advice on how to avoid notario scams:

  • Don’t believe it if someone tells you about a secret new immigration law or claims to have connections or special influence with any government office or agency.
  • Don’t pay money to someone to refer you to an immigration lawyer.
  • Walk away if an immigration lawyer doesn’t have a license.
  • Never sign an application that contains false information, and try not to sign blank forms. If you must sign a blank form, make sure you get a copy of the completed form and check to make sure all the information is correct before it is filed.
  • Always get proof that your papers have been filed; ask for a copy or government filing receipt whenever anything is submitted in your case.
  • Insist on a written contract that spells out all fees and expenses and make sure you receive a receipt, especially if you pay cash. If terms change, get a written explanation.
  • Don’t let anyone “find” you a sponsor or spouse to get you a green card – it’s illegal.

To report “Notario” fraud in Arizona, click here.