Crackdowns on notarios have caught media attention recently, and with good reason. Notarios are generally those who may be notaries but pretend to be licensed attorneys. In many other countries, notaries and attorneys are one and the same. However, notarios in the United States use this fact to take advantage of unsuspecting and newly arrived immigrants by pretending they can help them with their immigration issues. Not only is this the unauthorized practice of law and thus illegal under state laws, but notarios often misguide their clients to have their visas eventually denied or even have them deported. Notario fraud has especially experienced an uptick with the recent media attention over immigration reform with false promises to obtain green cards for undocumented noncitizens. However, we remind our readers that this legislation is only proposed and not yet law and people with immigration issues should always seek the advice and assistance from an immigration attorney with an active license.
California’s reaction to notario fraud has led to a proposed piece of legislation, dubbed AB 1159. It technically only applies to immigration attorneys who intend to provide services related to federal immigration reform bill, otherwise known as the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, Immigration Modernization Act, S. 744 2013.” However, given how widespread and sweeping this bill is, it would potentially affect every immigration attorney in California. One problem with California’s AB 1159 is that it would require immigration attorneys to post a bond of $100,000 and pay additional registration fees to the State Bar. This is a problem because immigration is not as a lucrative field as litigation, corporate, or other fields of law despite the stereotype about attorneys in general. Furthermore, many immigration attorneys are immigrants themselves or are from immigrant families; thus, aspiring young ethnic lawyers will have a very difficult time establishing their own practices to help their community in an already difficult economic period. Also, AB 1159 itself is a huge overreaction and assumes that fraud permeates throughout the immigration attorney bar, which is an assumption based on a few bad eggs. Such legislation shouldn’t affect the thousands of immigration professionals in California based on emotions alone.
The California legislature isn’t the only governmental entity attempting to address notario fraud. Most recently, the Department of Justice made a press release on Tuesday, August 27, detailing how three Missourians were sentenced to prison and required to pay $613,969 in restitution to their victims. “Immigrants who come to this country and try to play by the rules deserve fair treatment under the law – not to be bilked out of their hard-earned savings by those looking for a quick buck,” said Stuart F. Delery, Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “We are pleased to have worked with our law enforcement partners to bring to justice the leaders of this fraudulent operation.” The Missourian notarios made their ill-gotten gains through a common notario tactic – selling immigration forms that could be gotten for free at any USCIS office or online.
Fraud also reaches into the business-side of immigration. In February of this year, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced charges and an asset freeze against an individual representing a Regional Center in Chicago, IL that had defrauded $150 million out of foreign investors seeking an EB-5 visa. The SEC alleged that the Regional Center representative made false statements to investors and used investor funds to settle other litigation and other unrelated expenses. The full complaint can be found here. Although not necessarily notario fraud, it attests how expert immigration attorneys are required to navigate the very complicated immigration process.
If you or someone you know has been a victim of immigration fraud, or if you have questions about this article, feel free to contact our office.