As the President’s expansion of DACA and the creation of DAPA under his immigration executive action plan are rolled out, sadly, we can expect to see a spike in the unauthorized practice of law (UPL). (These things will extend protections to many undocumented immigrants.) While all UPL is a crime and can mean serious consequences for those involved, immigration UPL is one of the most dangerous kinds. Mistakes or inaccuracies on filed petitions can create the perception of carelessness or even fraud on the part of the immigrant, when he or she is in fact the victim of fraud. This is why one must be careful when choosing immigration council. Victims of immigration UPL have had negative consequences ranging from paying unnecessary fees to removal proceedings being filed against them.
The undocumented immigrant population is a vulnerable group. They expect little to nothing from government–and will avoid doing most things that might cause them to reveal their secret. According to Pew Research, there are 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, with up to 9 million of them being from Latino countries. While the exact number of these who are not English fluent isn’t immediately discoverable, over half of the entire foreign born population is of “Limited English Proficiency.” One can intuit that the proportion of undocumented immigrants from south of the Rio Grande that also have “Limited English Proficiency” is much greater than 50%, because immigrants from overseas tend to have had better education, or come from countries where English is a secondary, or even primary language.
Following the announcement of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in 2012, many undocumented immigrants found themselves eligible to stay and work in the country without fear of deportation, if they filed the proper paperwork. Most of these people had never dealt with an immigration attorney, and as a consequence, may not have known what to look for when choosing one. Widespread language obstacles included, these factors provided the necessary conditions for the community to be victims of fraud. In many Spanish-speaking countries, a holder of the title Notario Público can provide the same, if not more, legal services as a lawyer in the United States. However, the title Notary Public in the United States provides one with a legal authority that extends not much further than the attesting of signatures on forms. As if often the case, a direct translation of words causes a great difference in meaning. In this one, the results can be devastating for a vulnerable population.
The title “Notary Public” is not difficult to attain, and advertising one’s services under its direct translation to Spanish can lead many to overestimate the services that one such person may legally provide. One need not spend more than $200 to attain the title Notary Public, but some can spend well over $150,000 to become an attorney. This creates an obvious opening for these Notarios to charge much less than an immigration attorney, though they can often get away with charging the same or more, walking away with ridiculous profits. A major advantage they have that allows them to get away with this is their ability to create ties to the Hispanic-American community and advertise their services through word of mouth. They can use these ethnic and cultural ties to make themselves accessible and approachable, and once their “clients” are through the door, they use their skill of making themselves appear capable of providing a favorable immigration outcome.
It is physically possible for these people to correctly, though illegally, file a DACA petition on behalf of a “client.” But, there are many cases of their fraud not being limited to false advertising. In other words, they have been known to take people’s money without any intention of doing what their “clients” think they are going to do. Also, their lack of legal training and networking resources, unsurprisingly, is a further detriment. Even ones that do mean to do their best on a petition may only make matters worse through serious errors or faulty legal strategy. The conclusion is clear: Notarios are not immigration attorneys, and with how much is at stake, there’s no reason to risk it on them.
The Law Firm of Shihab and Associates is a highly rated full-service immigration legal team of fully licensed professionals. We are committed to affording maximal legal protection to our clients, and that includes filing DACA petitions for DREAMers. We also are participating in efforts to fight Notario Fraud. Any information pertaining to Notarios or any immigration scams can be submitted here at the USCIS’ website: http://www.uscis.gov/avoid-scams/report-immigration-scams. You can also call or email the ABA at 202-442-3363 or FNF@americanbar.org.