ABA president warns of unscrupulous non-lawyer “notarios”
As thousands of young undocumented immigrants lined up last month for a new program allowing those who meet certain qualifications to stay temporarily in the United States, ABA President Laurel G. Bellows urged applicants to avoid unscrupulous non-lawyer immigration consultants, or “notarios,” who are poised to exploit them.
In a statement issued Aug. 16, a day after the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program began accepting applications, Bellows expressed support for the program, which was established by President Obama through an executive order after proposed legislation, the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, stalled in Congress.
Administered by the Department of Homeland Security, the program requires applicants to meet the following qualifications:
- came to the United States under the age of 16 and are not over the age of 30;
- have continuously resided in the United States for at least five years and were residing in the United States on June 15, 2012;
- are currently in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a general education development certificate, or are honorably discharged veterans of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States; and
- have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.
Bellows said the ABA is concerned that some individuals will use this program to exploit young people who are understandably daunted by the paperwork requirements, and the association is urging applicants to contact local legal aid providers, a qualified immigration lawyer, or an accredited representative for assistance.
The association offers resources through its Fight Notario Fraud Project to victims of notarios or immigration consultants who represent themselves as qualified to help immigrants obtain lawful status. Unethical notaries may charge large amounts of money for help that they never provide, and often victims permanently lose opportunities to pursue immigration relief because notarios have damaged their cases.
The project, administered by the ABA Commission on Immigration, provides attorneys and other individuals with information on how to take action against notarios, provides a depository of pleadings and other forms that might be useful in reporting or pursuing a case against an immigration consultant, and facilitates the referral of victims of immigration-consultant fraud to litigation and consumer-protection attorneys interested in representing them pro bono in civil litigation against fraudulent immigration consultants.
The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement took a close look at another aspect of immigration fraud July 24 during a hearing on fraud committed by immigration attorneys.
During that hearing, Laura Lichter, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), explained that while the Executive Office of Immigration Review and the Department of Homeland Security have the authority to go after lawyers and accredited representatives who appear before the agencies, they cannot investigate unlicensed notarios. There are thousands of notarios in every ethnic community and, when notario fraud is uncovered by state and local authorities, the immigration bar tries to step in to help return victims to a proper immigration path by providing free consultations and reduced fee services, she said.
The House hearing was prompted by a large-scale immigration fraud mill operated from 1996 to 2009 by the David Law Firm in New York City. Charging up to $30,000 per client, the firm obtained thousands of Department of Labor certifications based upon false claims that U.S. employers had sponsored aliens for employment.
Representatives from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement testified that their agencies are working together to revoke or rescind benefits that have been obtained through fraud while at the same time ensuring that individuals who are eligible for benefits are not harmed by the unscrupulous actions of others.