Day after day, potential clients walk into my office with boxes of paper and faces of frustration. Minutes into our free immigration consultation, I notice a sense of concern and fear. Soon, I learn that the immigrant has a decades-old immigration problem that was a relatively simple fix long ago. Since then, however, he has spent tens of thousands of dollars on filing and legal fees, been back and forth to the Newark immigration field office for fingerprints, had several immigration interviews, received many denials, requests for evidence, letters from immigration… and now, at the top of the first box of papers is a letter scheduling the immigrant for court…Immigration Court. The immigrant describes how his prior “immigration counsel” keeps asking for more and more money. Keeps filing more and more forms. Keeps telling him that the “win” is a “guarantee.”
As I begin to look through the boxes, I see dozens of applications, receipt notices, and just random papers in disarray. The applications were random, incomplete, and full of errors. A complete mess. Most should not even have been filed. The immigrant is facing deportation because of what was filed. At the bottom of each application is the signature of a notary—a New Jersey notary whom New Jersey immigrants from Latin American countries have been duped into thinking is a “notario.”
As mentioned in a previous post from June 2017, a “notario” in Latin American countries means a “prestigious lawyer.” In the United States, a “notary public” is not an attorney, and cannot provide legal advice, appear in court, serve as an immigration consultant, or complete immigration forms. A notary public is licensed by the New Jersey Division of Revenue to verify documents and take oaths, and nothing more. Preying on these incorrect assumptions, many “notario publicos” have taken advantage of hundreds of thousands of immigrants across the United States, by advertising as “notarios,” completing immigration forms without proper legal experience or required licensing, bringing immigrants in under false pretenses, completing and filing random and unnecessary immigration forms, falsely claiming to be attorneys, and unlawfully providing legal advice, which all too often lead to false hope and a ticket out of the United States.
The Result: thousands of preventable deportations a year, decades of problem solving with immigration authorities; millions of dollars lost; shame, embarrassment, and becoming prey to the Administration’s intense immigration enforcement policies.
In a recent article, Asbury Park Press reporter Steph Solis wrote of increasing cases of “notario publico” immigration fraud throughout New Jersey. This, Solis writes, is because of the proximity of the notary to many immigrants, the “cost” for the service advertised, and a growing fear that keeps many immigrants confined to their own communities. Rather than help an immigrant locate competent immigration counsel, the “notario publico” pretends to be immigration counsel.
Solis notes that the “New Jersey Office of the Attorney General has strict rules about what constitutes notary fraud” with “businesses risk[ing] fines over advertising notary and immigration services on the same storefront.” The strict rules, however, lack strict enforcement. For example, when taking a short drive through one of New Jersey’s many Mexican, Brazilian, Ecuadorian, Colombian, Dominican, or Peruvian communities, you will see storefront after storefront advertising “notarios” or “notario publicos.” The windows will be littered with signs promising “quick ‘green cards,’” an “easy immigration process,” a “guaranteed green card in 30-days,” or, even, a “$199 Green Card Sale.” And, yes, an unwitting immigrant will be walking into the front door. The immigrant will be defrauded of tens of thousands of dollars, denied effective immigration representation, and likely end up in deportation proceedings. Yet another New Jersey immigrant who will end up with boxes full of paper, a face full of frustration, and another decade defending against deportation.
New Jersey Immigrants Must Remember: Use common sense. “Notario Publico” does not mean “Prestigious Attorney.” Immigration law is more than a form. Results cannot be guaranteed. Be wary, be cautious, and ask questions.