What is the Difference Between an Immigration Attorney and a Notario/Notary Public?
A notario (notario publico) translates to “notary public” in English. In the U.S., a notary public is a person who is authorized to witness the signing of documents. They may not give legal advice or provide immigration legal services. Florida law requires notaries public, who are not attorneys, to include the following statement in written advertisements: “I AM NOT AN ATTORNEY LICENSED TO PRACTICE LAW IN THE STATE OF FLORIDA, AND I MAY NOT GIVE LEGAL ADVICE OR ACCEPT FEES FOR LEGAL ADVICE.” Fla. Stat. Ann. at § 117.05 (11). In fact, no one is permitted to accept fees for legal services that they cannot or may not perform and even where no fee is charged, a nonlawyer cannot provide legal advice or legal services.
In many other countries however, a notario is a person who is licensed to practice law and represent clients in legal matters. Notario immigration fraud happens when someone in the U.S. is a licensed notary, but falsely advertises to immigrant populations that they are capable of practicing immigration law in the U.S. Notario publico scams are very effective because immigrants often mistakenly believe that the notario is qualified to provide legal services.
Even notarios who truly want to help you can still harm your immigration case. If a notario lacks knowledge about immigration laws, they may file documents, applications, or petitions which may actually harm you case. A recent change in immigration law now requires that when an application is denied, your case is sent to removal (deportation) proceedings. There are no minimum education requirements necessary to become a notary public in Florida.
A lawyer on the other hand, must obtain a college degree, score well on a national law school admissions test, study law for at least three years, graduate from law school, demonstrate they have the character and fitness to practice law, and pass a state bar examination which also requires the lawyer demonstrate their knowledge of legal ethics. A lawyer who fails to give proper advice can be subject to the full process of the law. Lawyers are also required to continue their legal education even after they become licensed attorneys to ensure they are current on legal ethics and education.
If you hired an attorney to assist with your immigration case, you can check with their state bar association to make sure they are eligible to practice law in your state. As immigration law is extremely complex and constantly changing, it is also recommended that your immigration attorney be a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), the national association for immigration attorneys practicing law throughout the U.S.
To summarize, if you receive incompetent immigration help, your application may be delayed, you may lose money or be charged unnecessary fees, and you may even face deportation as a result.
Here are some tips to help you avoid immigration scams:
- Be wary of anyone who “guarantees” that they can get you a specific benefit (e.g. a visa or green card)
- USCIS doesn’t charge a fee to download forms
- Before signing any document make sure you understand what you’re signing, and that all information is accurate
- Never sign blank forms
- Double check on-line that the filing fee you’re requested to pay correctly corresponds to USCIS’s posted list of fees
- Always request a receipt for any payment made to your attorney or representative
- Keep copies of all forms and documents submitted to USCIS for your own records
- Keep all receipts and correspondence from USCIS