Immigration law is extremely complex. It is important to have qualified representation because even a small mistake can have devastating consequences for you and your family.
Immigrant communities are particularly vulnerable to notario fraud. Notario fraud refers to people who offer legal advice, prepare immigration forms, or otherwise represent people before the immigration agencies when they are not qualified to do so. Generally, to practice immigration law, you must be a licensed attorney. A non-attorney who is specially authorized to represent immigrants by the Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”) is also qualified to practice immigration law. However, BIA-accredited representatives can only work for certain non-profit organizations that are recognized by the BIA.
Some people who commit notario fraud lie and say they are attorneys. Others call themselves “notarios” or “immigration consultants” and wrongly claim that they are qualified to help with immigration issues.
It is important to remember that the Spanish word notario, translated as “notary public” in English, has a different meaning in the United States than in Latin America. In many Latin American countries, a notary public is the equivalent of a lawyer and is authorized to practice law. In the United States, a notary public isonly authorized to witness the signature of forms and is not required to have any legal knowledge or training. Thus, when Spanish-speakers consult a “notario” to help with immigration issues, they may wrongly assume the person is an attorney.
To prevent becoming a victim of notario fraud, one of the most important steps you can take is to verify that the person helping you is a licensed attorney or a BIA-accredited representative. If you’re not sure if the person is an attorney, ask for the person’s bar license number. The Minnesota court system maintains a database of attorneys licensed to practice in this state here. If the person is an attorney, you should also make sure that his or her license has not been suspended or revoked for any reason. Remember, you are the client and if you have questions about the person’s qualifications, you have a right to ask!
If you suspect that you’ve been a victim of notario fraud, there are many resources available to you. The American Immigration Lawyers Association sponsors a website dedicated to helping victims of notario fraud and preventing further abuses. If the fraud occurred in Minnesota, you can file a consumer complaint with the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office. Finally, Wilson Law Group’s civil practice team has experience pursuing claims against notarios. In addition, if your immigration status is in jeopardy as a result of the notario fraud, our immigration team can assess your case and give you honest advice about your options moving forward.