Are Notarios Publicos and Notaries Authorized Legal Professionals? – The National Law Review

Many immigrants often require legal professionals’ help to either request an immigration benefit or maintain lawful status. Desperate immigrants who are unable to afford attorney fees fall prey to the infamous notary fraud. However, unscrupulous notaries or immigration consultants have become a severe problem for immigrants throughout the United States. Victims of such scams are typically undocumented immigrants with limited English-speaking skills and no knowledge of the United States legal system. A warning issued by American Bar Association reads, “[o]ften using false advertising and fraudulent contracts, notaries hold themselves out as qualified to help immigrants obtain a lawful status or perform legal functions such as drafting wills or other legal documents.”
Notary frauds are never brought out to light by the immigrants. Immigrants fear that notaries could denounce them if they turn them over to local police or Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Often notaries hold out themselves as qualified legal professionals and charge a lot of money, never providing the appropriate legal service. Immigrants permanently lose opportunities to pursue immigration relief as they must have missed the filing window or the correct timeline.
Fraudulent notaries can sometimes go to the lengths of providing fake documents as evidence for applications. Such records are permanently stored in the immigrant’s file and become a significant impediment when the immigrant tries to get a legal immigration benefit. Most immigrants complain that notorios demand legal fees and filing fees and never do the filing. Often their money order is encashed, and the form never gets filed.
The confusion primarily stems from the concept of “notarios publicos” who are qualified legal professionals in many Central American countries. However, immigrants fail to realize that this is not the case with the legal system in the United States. In the United States, according to the American Association of Notaries, “notaries are individuals who can read and write English and over 18 years of age.”
“I’m just here to make sure you are you and you sign your name,” said David Larson, owner of Boone County License & Title in Belvidere. Since the terms “notorios publicos” and “notaries” sound similar, it is the cause of confusion for many desperate immigrants. Immigrants who face the brunt of notary fraud also fear reporting such practice as they fear untoward repercussions.
Immigration laws are very complex. Most forms of relief require elaborate paperwork, lengthy written briefs, or complex digital applications along with adherence to strict timelines. Therefore, licensed attorneys must represent immigrants. There are many legal aid agencies immigrants may reach out to for help. These agencies provide free legal aid to few eligible low-income immigrants. Instead, immigrants get trapped with notary fraud, believing them to be qualified professionals.
About this Author
Raymond G. Lahoud, Chair of the firm’s Immigration Law Practice, focuses exclusively on the area of immigration law and deportation defense for individuals, families, small to large domestic and multinational businesses and corporations, employers, international employees, investors, students, professors, researchers, skilled professionals, athletes, and entertainers, in every type of immigration or deportation defense matter—whether domestic or foreign.  While Ray’s immigration practice is global in reach, with service to individuals and organizations across the United States and beyond,…
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