By Daniel Colbert, ACLR Featured Blogger
As Congress debates comprehensive immigration reform, one of the widespread abuses it should address is one of which immigrants are the victims: notario fraud. Narrowly defined, notario fraud is the unauthorized provision of legal services to individuals seeking help with their immigration status, but it can also include others falsely holding themselves out as experts in immigration.
Language and cultural barriers, as well as the threat of deportation, make immigrants vulnerable to fraud in many contexts, but a quirk of language creates a unique opportunity for exploitation. In many Latin American countries, the term “notario publico” refers to someone licensed to practice law. American notary publics who may have no expertise at all in law or immigration can advertise to recent immigrants using a term that implies a certification to practice immigration law.
As a result, notario fraud is ubiquitous among immigrant communities. According to one study, 13 percent of immigrants consulted a notario for help dealing with immigration agencies, and that percentage increases for Latin American immigrants. Most alarmingly, 47 percent of undocumented immigrants and 49 percent of asylum-seekers had used the services of a notario. Those figures are the most recent available, but they come from a 1996 survey; one must imagine that the demand for notario services has only increased since then.