Protecting Immigrants from ‘Notarios’

'Notarios' are a financial and legal threat to immigrants who might benefit from Obama's anticipate executive action.
'Notarios' are a financial and legal threat to immigrants who might benefit from Obama's anticipate executive action.

We may be within weeks of an executive order on immigration being issued by President Barack Obama. Last week, I was at a meeting organized by CARECEN where we discussed what the situation is likely to be like if an order covering millions of immigrants is issued in September. Such an order might be limited to a few hundred thousand immigrants or it might include 5 million. We just don’t know how many will be protected by it.

If it is some large number of people who can apply for protection, then we are likely to see a couple of very negative initial problems. First, many immigration lawyers will engage in price gouging. We saw this with the small Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2012. When that program was declared most immigration lawyers charged a reasonable fee of $400 to $500.

When they saw how many young people were applying, fees jumped to $700, then to $1,500 and even to $2,500 for an application that essentially took two hours to prepare. We are likely to see similar price gouging this time around as well. It is important for lawyers to know that while they should be paid for their work, they should not exploit the undocumented.

The second problem will be that posed by notaries or “notarios.” Everyone born in the United States knows that notaries are folks who verify signatures. They have no special training and they are not authorized to practice law. However, in some parts of Latin America a “notario” has many of the same powers as a lawyer. Here on Long Island many untrained people hang out signs saying that they are “notarios” and that they can therefore practice immigration law. These rip-off artists will inevitably flourish after an executive order in announced, and they will damage to their clients legally and financially.

Immigration lawyers who charge exorbitant fees inadvertently throw immigrants to the notarios. The first step in combatting notary fraud is reasonable fees at law offices.

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Patrick Young blogs daily for Long Island Wins. He is the Downstate Advocacy Director of the New York Immigration Coalition and Special Professor of Immigration Law at Hofstra School of Law. He served as the Director of Legal Services and Program at Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN) for three decades before retiring in 2019. Pat is also a student of immigration history and the author of The Immigrants' Civil War.