As an immigration attorney I often meet clients who hired a Notario to provide them with legal assistance. These clients are often in my office because their immigration cases have been denied and/or they are now in removal proceedings. After reviewing these clients’ cases it is usually difficult, if not impossible, to resolve their cases in a favorable manner. These clients are the victims of Notarios or individuals who provide immigration services who are not authorized by the State to provide legal assistance. Please remember that a Notario is different from a Notary Public. A Notario is usually an individual who tells people that they are able to provide legal services or that they are attorneys in their native country. Notary Publics are individuals who are authorized to notarize documents. Notary Publics and Notarios are not authorized to provide legal advice to anyone. The purpose of this article is to inform the public of unscrupulous individuals who take money from clients for cases that eventually are denied and/or never filed with Immigration.
First it is important to understand that Notarios are not attorneys in the United States. In certain Hispanic countries, a Notario is a respected professional who is also a licensed attorney. In those countries it is perfectly legal for Notarios to provide legal assistance. In the United States, in order an individual to provide legal assistance he/she must be licensed in the State or they must be an individual or organization that is authorized by the State of Georgia to provide legal assistance. Notarios, paralegals, secretaries, Notary Publics are not licensed or authorized by the State of Georgia to provide legal advice to anyone. If these individuals give legal assistance they are committing a crime and they can be fined and/or jailed for engaging in the unauthorized practice of law.
Second, the next thing that clients often tell me is that the Notario and/or individual did not provide them with legal advice because he/she only assisted them with completing their immigration forms. You should know that all the questions on your immigration forms are based on immigration law. The questions on these immigration forms are there to allow the U.S Government to determine if you are eligible for an immigration benefit or deportable pursuant to the immigration laws. In addition, all the information on your immigration forms become part of your permanent immigration file. Therefore if a Notario gives you advice as to what information to include and/or what information to leave out on your application, this is legal advice. Also, please know that if the Notario puts the incorrect information on your immigration form and you sign it, you will be bound to the information in your application whether or not it is correct. Whenever you sign your immigration forms you are telling Immigration that the information on your forms is the truth. You are in fact swearing or affirming that your responses to all the questions are true as if you were before a judge in a court of law. Therefore if you sign your immigration forms with information that you know is false, or incorrect you have committed fraud upon the United States government and you could lose your eligibility for certain immigration benefits and you could be deported. If you sign your immigration forms with information that you were unaware was incorrect Immigration and the Immigration Court can still hold your accountable to your responses.
It is also very dangerous to use a Notario or an unauthorized individual to assist you with your immigration case because you have no protection. Usually, if you hire an attorney or an individual who is authorized by the State to give legal advice you have some basic protections. First, attorneys and authorized professionals are obligated to provide you with accurate legal advice. If an attorney or an authorized professional gives you incorrect legal advice and your immigration case is denied because of this advice, you have the legal right to report him/her to the State Bar Association of Georgia. The State Bar will disciple the attorney or authorized professional. Also, you can then report this individual to Immigration who may be more inclined to amend the information on your forms that were a result of the attorney or authorized professional’s error or misconduct. If you hire a Notario or other individual, Immigration officers do not usually correct mistakes on your application especially if you knew that the individual who you hired was not authorized to practice law. Also, in some circumstances even if you did not know you were hiring a Notario, it is still very unlikely that Immigration will change the incorrect information on your application unless you have compelling evidence to show that you were a victim. Finally, it is extremely dangerous to hire Notarios to prepare your cases because they usually close down their businesses and vanish without a trace leaving the client with a plethora of immigration problems. In my experience, Notaries usually refuse to give copies and/or original documents to their clients because they want to control the flow of information. Also, it is usually very difficult for the clients and law enforcement to find and prosecute Notarios because these individuals usually use false names, false phone numbers and they close down their businesses and leave the state. Consequently, most clients have no documents and they have no idea what work, if any, was actually done on their immigration cases.
The best way to protect yourself is to try to avoid hiring a Notario without your knowledge. In order to avoid Notarios you should take the following steps:
- If you are going to an attorney for legal advice you should always contact the State Bar Association at 404-527-8777 to ensure that this individual is a licensed attorney.
- At your consultation appointment with an attorney or an authorized individual or organization you should observe their manner. Please stay away from individuals who refuse to give your copies of your documents, provide you with case updates or refuse to take your phone calls.
- Finally, if you suspect that the individual is a Notario you should report them to the State Bar Association at 404-527-8743. Also you must keep a copy of all your immigration documents and receipts for all monies related to your immigration case.
Your immigration status is very important. Your legal immigration status is your key to working and living with your family in the United States. If you have legal immigration status you must make it a priority to maintain it. Do not be taken in by individuals who promise to save you some money. In the event that this person is not licensed to provide you with legal advice and your case is denied, it is going to take a lot of time and finances to fix the problem. Unfortunately, in some cases your case will not be fixable and you will be left with no recourse. This article is not an attempt to persuade you to hire only attorneys because there are various attorneys, individuals and organization that are able to represent you for free or at a reduced cost throughout the State of Georgia. To access these attorneys or organizations who may contact the State Bar Association at 404-527-8700 or Georgia Legal Services at 404-206-5175. The purpose of this article is to warn unsuspecting individuals of Notarios so that they can avoid unnecessary expense and heartache with their immigration petitions.
About the Writer:
Safiya Byars is a senior immigration attorney in Norcross, Georgia. She is a native of Jamaica and has personal experience with the difficulties of maneuvering the Immigration system. Safiya Byars has served as the senior immigration attorney with boutique immigration firms in both Alabama and Georgia. To discuss your case, please contact Attorney Byars at 404-992-6506 or via email.