Do not become another victim of a notary or immigration consultant!
There are hundreds and hundreds of offices of immigration consultants and notaries in California. These offices cannot offer you legal advice regarding your immigration case without breaking the law. A notary or consultant who offers legal advice is committing a crime. If a notary or immigration consultant answers even the most basic questions (such as whether you qualify for naturalization, or which form you should file), that person is providing legal advice in violation of California law.
Worse yet, the poor quality of the work that a notary performs can affect your immigration case forever. Daily, hundreds of immigrants fall victim to notaries and immigration consultants who take advantage of their lack of English skills, their ignorance of the immigration system, and the lack of understanding of the term “notary.”
- What is a notary?
- What about immigration consultants, can they give legal advice regarding my case?
- Does an immigration consultant have a professional credential, license or any formal training in immigration law?
- Some offices have a sign that reads “Immigration Consultant” with a bond number. Does that mean they have training and professional license to give immigration advice?
- What is considered legal advice?
- What immigration services can a notary/immigration consultant offer?
- What else does the law say about notary fraud?
- Why should I pay a notary or an immigration consultant if the law permits him/her to do practically nothing for me?
- Who can offer me legal immigration advice and services?
- I have doubts about my notary but they work with attorneys; should I trust their work?
- How can a notary/immigration consultant jeopardize my immigration case?
- Community nonprofit organizations can help, right?
- Can an organization that isn’t on the list offer immigration services in exchange for money?
- What should I do if I have been a victim of notary fraud?
- Where can I find legitimate legal immigration services?
- How to avoid becoming a victim of notary fraud, immigration consultants, and unscrupulous attorneys
In most Latin American countries, a notary is a legal profession, someone who has a university degree and who belongs to a professional association. In other words, in Latin America a notary is an attorney who, in addition to performing his profession, has the power to publicly certify facts and actions that occur in his presence.
Unlike in Latin America, in the United States, a notary can only certify signatures on documents. A notary does not have the authority to provide advice in any legal matter, including an immigration case or any other topic.
A person can become a notary in the United States by taking a six hour class and passing a 45-minute exam!
It is really easy because a notary in the U.S. is just a signature certifier. They take advantage of the confusion over the term “notary,” and abuse immigrants by leading them to believe that they are immigration experts or have the necessary credentials to offer advice and services regarding immigration law.
Keep in mind that not all notaries are crooks. A notary who limits him/herself to certifying signatures on documents is performing his/her duties properly. A crime is committed the moment a notary exceeds the scope of his/her duties. If the notary provides any advice regarding an immigration case, he/she has exceeded the scope of his/her duties and broken the law.
Additionally, it’s common that “notaries” and immigration consultants falsely:
- Offer faster processes
- Offer special treatment on behalf of someone who work in the Department of Homeland Security or the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services
- Guarantee results
- Offer lower costs than legitimate legal offices (notaries normally charge more than nonprofit organizations)
- Say they work with an attorney (if so, said attorney would also be committing a crime)
NO! An immigration consultant is prohibited from providing any legal advice. If an immigration consultant answers even the most basic questions about your immigration case (Am I eligible to renew my green card? What form should I use?), that person is violating the law by providing legal advice without a license.
Does an immigration consultant have a professional credential, license or any formal training in immigration law?
Despite the title “immigration consultant,” these persons do not have a professional credential that requires any training whatsoever. Immigration consultants are not immigration experts. On the contrary, they are prohibited from even offering legal advice in immigration matters. Immigration consultants who try to offer such advice are lawbreakers, not experts. Do not put your legal status in the hands of a criminal.
Some offices have a sign that reads “Immigration Consultant” with a bond number. Does that mean they have training and professional license to give immigration advice?
Definitely not! Due to the high rates of fraud among people who fill out immigration forms, California passed a law to protect immigrant consumers. This law requires all persons who fill out immigration forms to deposit a $50,000 bond. This bond money is available so that victims may recover money if they sue the immigration consultant. But the bond does not authorize the immigration consultant to offer any kind of legal advice (remember that giving legal advice includes answering questions such as “What immigration form should I file?” or “Am I eligible?”). If you have questions about your immigration case and an immigration consultant answers them, he is practicing law without a license in violation of the law.
To give legal advice includes answering very basic questions, for example:
- Do I qualify for citizenship?
- Can I renew my residence card?
- Which form should I use?
It’s absolutely against the law that an immigration consultant, notary, or non-accredited person provide legal advice on immigration. An immigrant has these kinds of basic questions in any immigration case. It’s practically impossible that a notary/immigration consultant make any immigration process without offering legal advice: they probably do this on various occasions from beginning to end of their contact with the client. If the notary or immigration consultant simply chooses the immigration form for your case, they are providing legal advice in violation of the law. If a notary has advised you on any of these topics, this person has committed a crime.
An immigration consultant, in exchange for a monetary compensation, can only provide services that are not of legal character, for example:
- Fill out an immigration form but NEVER advise you on which form to use
- Translate your answers to the questions on a form but NEVER advise you how to respond to any question on the form
- Help obtain necessary documents
- Make photocopies of your documents
- Send your documents to the immigration offices ONLY if you authorize it
The California Business and Professions Code requires any immigration consultant who wants to perform the activities mentioned above to register with the Secretary of State as an immigration consultant, pass a background check, and deposit a bond in the amount of $50,000. Every employee who interacts with the public at an Immigration Consultant’s office must post a $50,000 bond.
To verify whether an immigration consultant has posted the required bond with the Secretary of State, you may call (916) 653-3984 or look up the business/immigration consultant at the Secretary of State’s website: http://www.sos.ca.gov/business/sf/bond_search.htm
An immigration consultant who complies with all of these requirements should also:
- Post a VISIBLE sign in his office in English and in the client’s language establishing:
- His/her full name and the business’s address
- Evidence of the bond deposit of $50,000
- Declaring that the immigration consultant is not an attorney
- Post another visible sign indicating that the immigration consultant cannot charge any fee for referring clients to an immigration attorney
- A sign listing all services offered by the immigration consultant and their respective prices
- Provide a written contract in English and the client’s language that indicates:
- the immigration consultant is not an attorney,
- establishes costs and services,
- has a clause that asserts the client’s right to rescind the contract within 72 hours, and receive a refund of any payments made in advance
- The customer can file a complaint against the immigration consultant with the Office of Immigrant Assistance of the Department of Justice and with the State Bar of California, including the phone numbers and web pages of these institutions.
- If you received immigration services and were not provided with this contract, you have been a victim of a notary/immigration consultant that does not comply with the law.
- The immigration consultant cannot use certain words that if translated can take on another meaning in the client’s language, example: notary public, in Spanish is “notario,” meaning attorney when translated.
- Receipts for each payment to the consultant must be written on typewriter/computer, with office letterhead, and signed by the consultant.
ONLY immigration consultants who comply with these requirements can help you with photocopies, translations or completing forms that you and only you decide to use. The same applies to nonprofit organizations that charge fees but do not have an attorney or accredited representatives.
Why should I pay a notary or an immigration consultant if the law permits him/her to do practically nothing for me?
This is a great question. Immigration consultants/notaries do not have formal immigration law training and they are not allowed to answer even the most basic legal questions that every immigrant has when applying for an immigration benefit. CARECEN recommends that all persons seeking immigration assistance completely avoid notaries and immigration consultants. Your legal status is too important to place it in the hands of a notary or immigration consultant.
CARECEN also encourages immigrants to avoid certain community-based nonprofit organizations that charge fees for immigration services, if the organization does not appear on the list of BIA-recognized agencies, and does not have constant attorney supervision. Immigration law is complex and a nonprofit organization may do as much harm as a notary or immigration consultant.
Organizations that charge money for immigration legal services without attorney supervision and without BIA recognition operate in violation of the law. If you have concerns about whether an organization has attorney supervision, ask to speak to the organization’s supervising attorney(s).
The only persons authorized to provide legal immigration services, in exchange for a monetary compensation, are attorneys and the personnel that work directly under their supervision (in the same offices). Representatives accredited by the Board of Immigration Appeals can also offer advice as long as they work in a nonprofit organization recognized by the BIA.
If a notary states that they work with an attorney, both the notary and the attorney are probably breaking the law. The only circumstance in which an attorney can work with a notary is if the notary is an employee in the attorney’s office. But notaries/immigration consultants that work on immigration issues generally maintain their own offices or independent businesses and have ties with certain attorneys. Do not trust attorneys that work with immigration consultants and notaries.
Another situation that ruins many immigrants’ cases is when notaries/immigration consultants are working with attorneys that only represent the person in court. The notary/immigration consultant finds clients and works with an attorney that represents the client in immigration court. Generally, the client does not have contact with the attorney except on the day of their court hearing. The notary/immigration consultant maintains the primary contact with the client and maybe prepares documents and/or collects payments for the attorney.
That type of professional relationship between attorney and notary/immigration consultant is prohibited. An attorney cannot share earnings with someone that is not an attorney. An attorney can employ a “paralegal”, but only if the attorney directly supervises them and complies with other requirements established by law. An attorney cannot have a professional relationship with a notary/immigration consultant that maintains their own office, fills out immigration forms, and gives legal advice. If the attorney knows that the notary/immigration consultant with whom he works is breaking the law (something that should be evident to any attorney), or if the notary/immigration consultant receives any compensation for referring clients to the attorney, then the attorney is also breaking the law through his professional tie with the notary/immigration consultant.
Additionally, an attorney that does not work directly with his clients is not capable of providing quality legal representation and can jeopardize your immigration case. It is possible that your case won’t be complicated and the attorney manages to solve it. But unscrupulous attorneys that work with notaries/immigration consultants generally provide low-quality services. If you have an appointment in immigration court, it means that you are in the process of deportation. Your future in the United States is in the hands of that attorney and you should have direct communication with them.
The job quality of the work that an attorney does affects the result of your case. When immigration has the discretion of approving or denying a case, the quality of the preparation is fundamental. The bad quality jobs that notaries and immigration consultants carry out can cause irreparable damages to your immigration case.
Some of the most common problems that notaries cause are:
- Cases denied due to the bad quality of the job
- Incorrect forms and unnecessary payments
- Incomplete information due to missing key evidence
- A lot of the people who have been deported or are in the deportation process were convinced by a notary that they qualified for some immigration benefit. Don’t fall for it!
If you sign legal immigration documents, you are responsible for its contents. If the notary puts false information and you sign without knowing, the USCIS can hold you responsible and deny your case for fraud. If immigration concludes that you lied in any immigration process, it can also jeopardize future processes.
The immigration laws have changed a lot in the past 15 years. Processes that were simple in the past have gotten more complicated due to changes in the law. It is the attorneys’ and accredited representatives’ responsibility to maintain up to date with the changes in immigration laws. Notaries/consultants are not familiar with immigration laws because they don’t have education/professional credentials of any kind.
A lot of fraud victims claim they worked with the same notary that arranged a family member or friend’s papers. If a notary managed to process residency for someone that you know, don’t trust that the same will happen in your case.
Another case that fraud victims often mention is that they thought process was simple and so they did not need an attorney. That may be true, but if you yourself can’t fill out the forms, seek legitimate advice from nonprofit organizations with attorneys or accredited personnel to help you. Don’t leave your legal status in the hands of a criminal!
The reason why a notary can’t offer legal immigration services is very simple. In the same way that you would not allow a person without a license to practice medicine perform a surgery, you should not allow a person not licensed to practice immigration law to help you with your legal case.
Not all nonprofit organizations are capable of offering legitimate legal immigration services.
Nonprofit organizations that do not have legitimate immigration attorneys or accredited personnel by the Board of Immigration Appeals cannot charge you any monetary compensation in exchange for legal immigration services. It doesn’t matter that the organization has good intentions in helping you, if these do not have attorneys or accredited representatives, they cannot offer legal help in terms of immigration in exchange for money. If so, these organizations would be breaking the law in the same way that notaries or immigration consultants do and can also cause the same damage to your case.
If you would like information about the organizations that have representatives accredited by the Board of Immigration Appeals can visit the Department of Justice’s web page at www.justice.gov/eoir/statspub/raroster_files/raroster_orgs_reps.htm
It’s important to take into account that many nonprofit organizations share the same name in different parts of the country. But this doesn’t mean that they all have accredited representatives. If an organization appears in the list of offices with representatives accredited by the Department of Justice, ONLY the office on that address can offer legal services.
Any organization that doesn’t have attorneys or accredited representatives and wants to provide not legal immigration services is subject to the same limitations as an immigration consultant and should have the bond deposit of $50,000 and be recognized by the Secretary of State. After fulfilling all of these requirements, the organization can only assist with photocopies, translations, and sending documents without providing any type of legal advice in your case.
Only if it has an attorney present in its office that supervises and assumes responsibility for the legal work done there.
If you think you’ve been a victim of fraud by a notary, contact a nonprofit organization that has full-time lawyers, or a legitimate immigration attorney that can determine the actual state of your immigration case.
Additionally, contact your state’s Bureau of Consumer Protection to file an official complaint. To contact the Bureau of Consumer Protection, call the Office of Immigrant Assistance at 888-587-0557 or through their website: http://oag.ca.gov/sites/all/files/pdfs/contact/business_corpform_sp.pdf
If you live in the county of Los Angeles you can file your complaint with the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer Affairs at http://dca.lacounty.gov/ComplaintForm.html The Los Angeles County District Attorney's office has additional information on their webpage: http://da.lacounty.gov/immigration.htm#help
Attorneys that work directly or indirectly with notaries are committing an ethical fault. If you know an attorney that is engaging in misconduct, you can file a complaint with the State Bar of the state in which said attorney has been admitted. To present your complaint against an attorney in California visit http://www.calbar.ca.gov/Attorneys/LawyerRegulation/FilingaComplaint.aspx
For information on other states, you can visit the American Immigration Lawyers Association for more information about notary fraud. http://www.stopnotariofraud.org/index-es.php
If you have been a victim of fraud by a notary, your complaint is VERY IMPORTANT to prevent more people from being scammed by these criminals. It is important that the complaint against an attorney or notary is detailed. Include the contract (or indicate that the attorney did not provide a contract even though it is their legal obligation to do so), the business card of the attorney or notary, payment receipts that you have made and above all clearly explain how the notary or attorney jeopardized you in your immigration case. CARECEN recommends that you always obtain legitimate legal advice before filing your complaint.
Only immigration attorneys and representatives accredited by the Board of Immigration Appeals can advise on legal immigration issues.
A representative accredited by the Board of Immigration Appeals can only work in nonprofit organizations. Accredited representatives have received extensive training on immigration laws. To find an accredited representative visit the Department of Justice’s webpage: http://www.justice.gov/eoir/statspub/raroster_files/raroster_reps.htm#M
To practice, an attorney should have a degree that accredits them as such and have been admitted to the State Bar in one of the fifty states. For more information on how to find an authorized attorney contact the American Immigration Lawyers Association www.ailalawyer.com
An immigration attorney or accredited representative:
- Will present your legal options and examine your case in detail before guaranteeing any result
- Will provide you with a written contract that indicates the services that will be provided and the costs for said services
- Will never ask you to sign a contract in a language different than what you speak, if necessary you will be provided with a translated contract
- Will never ask you to sign documents in blank
- Has the responsibility to inform you about the state of your immigration case
- Don’t look for what you want to hear. If you are looking for someone to promise you residency, you will always find someone to do so. Be a good consumer, look for a second (and third) opinion. A legitimate medical practitioner advises their patients to look for other opinions and does not take offense if a patient does. Feel free to do the same with a legal case.
- Don’t sign documents or forms in blank.
- Don’t sign applications or documents in a language that you don’t understand
- Don’t sign documents that include false information
- Verify that the attorney is legitimate and that they belong to the State Bar of one of the fifty states. To find legitimate attorneys visit http://www.aila.org/
- If your case is being prepared by a nonprofit organization, make sure that it has legitimate attorneys and personnel supervised by attorneys or at least with the person accredited by the Board of Immigration Appeals. You can do this through http://www.justice.gov/eoir/statspub/raroster_files/raroster_reps.htm#M
- Stay informed about your case
- Demand a contract that specifies the costs and score of the representation.