As you drive down Franklin Street in Hempstead, you will see bodegas and travel agencies advertising that they provide immigration law services. No one bats an eye, but if they advertised that they were also unlicensed dentists, people would be outraged. These unlicensed and untrained “immigration consultants” not only give bad and often dangerous advice, they also often rob immigrants seeking their help. The “consultants” further confuse immigrants by referring to themselves as “notarios.”
Many of these illegal agencies prominently advertise that they are “notarios” in many parts of Latin America. Immigrants don’t realize that in the United States, a notary has no special legal training and that virtually anyone who passes a simple test can become a notary. Immigrants from Central America often believe that “notarios” are licensed attorneys.
A new law goes into effect today criminalizing many forms of Notario Abuse. The law, signed last year by Gov. Cuomo, was pushed by the New York Immigration Coalition and its members like the Long Island Immigrant Alliance and CARECEN.
The new Immigrant Assistance Service Enforcement Act:
1. Clarifies that only attorneys and Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) Accredited representatives can provide legal services. In addition, it clarifies that other services such as translation and document gathering are subject to strict consumer protection rules to prevent clients from being misled.
2. Creates new crimes specifically targeting those who defraud immigrants, potentially harming their future ability to qualify for immigration benefits, and often putting them at risk of deportation.Creates the New York State Office for New Americans as an Executive Agency with a mandate to assist communities in accessing legal, ESOL, civic, and other programs and to otherwise address the concerns of New York’s immigrant communities, including concerns relating to fraud.
Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, applauded the new law saying, “Our members and allies across the state helped to shape this bill that would punish those who seek to take advantage of immigrant communities, while also empowering those same communities to reach their full potential through initiatives of the Office for New Americans. While we laud the passage of the IASEA, we also note that the state can follow-up with a significant investment in our newcomer communities.”
As Choi pointed out, unless free or low-cost immigrant legal services are available to immigrants, they will continue to turn to notarios for help.
Notario fraud is expected to be a particular problem as tens of thousands of immigrants seek legal services to apply for work authorization under President Barack Obama’s administrative relief program.