Earlier this week, a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators introduced the first major immigration bill since 2007! After months of negotiation, the group of Senators known as the “gang of 8,” introduced a bipartisan agreement for a workable solution to the country’s broken immigration system. If passed as is currently written, the bill would strengthen our economy and security, would keep families from being torn apart, would bring millions of undocumented immigrants out of the shadows, and would modernize our legal immigration system.
Many immigrants may be confused about what the bill means for them and their families. The truth is that the bill introduced this week is only a proposal; it must still work its way through Congress and will undoubtedly be altered in many ways before being approved. Unfortunately, unlicensed and unqualified individuals, known as notarios, are increasingly taking advantage of this confusion and maliciously—and illegally—offering costly legal immigration advice to unsuspecting immigrants.
There is growing concern that immigrants and their families will be victimized by notarios. The consequences can be quite devastating. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), taking advice from one of these unscrupulous notarios may result in application delays, high and unnecessary fees, and could even lead to removal proceedings. The true prevalence of fraud is difficult to determine given the nature of the victims, who are often reluctant to file formal complaints, but experts believe it is much higher than the number of cases that are reported.
Across the country, state and local governments are responding to the rising incidence of notario fraud. They are taking steps to inform their constituencies of the potential dangers and are taking strong action against the perpetrators themselves. Last year, following the Administration’s memorandum that provided deferred action to many DREAM Act-eligible students, several states issued warnings about notario fraud. In March of this year, Oregon’s Justice Department announced that it had shut down notarios who were mishandling tax filings and offering bad immigration advice to immigrants. The Oregon legislature is also considering a bill that would enable law enforcement officials to go after notarios more effectively. And here in Washington, D.C., Ayuda, an NCLR Affiliate, received a grant from the D.C. Bar Foundation to help reduce notario fraud and provide legal assistance to victims.
Unfortunately, confusion about immigration reform will only worsen as Congress continues its delicate work in the weeks and months to come, which will only make it easier for notarios to take advantage of consumers. To protect immigrants from falling prey to these scams, USCIS and the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) have set up websites with helpful tips on how individuals and families may avoid being victimized. They provide information about whom and what consumers should be wary of, the potential consequences of using an unqualified notario, and the recourses that are available to them if they are victimized.