The federal government has announced an unprecedented, multi-agency, nationwide initiative targeting immigration assistance scams and the unauthorized practice of law — often involving individuals falsely holding themselves out as Notarios Publicos.
The campaign is the most significant, coordinated effort at combating Notario abuse in U.S. history. While many states have enacted laws and launched local initiatives to fight Notarios, federal agencies have never pooled their resources on this scale. The campaign sends a strong message that individuals portraying themselves as Notarios are much more likely to be confronted with government action.
In Hispanic countries, Notarios Publico are highly trained legal professionals akin to attorneys who provide legal advice and draft legal documents. In the United States, however, Notaries are state-commissioned officials with narrow witnessing duties and much less discretion. Many unethical individuals exploit the confusion over these different roles to take advantage of unsuspecting immigrants.
For four decades, the National Notary Association has worked to educate Notaries, government officials and the general public about Notario abuse. One of the most important resources is a brochure entitled “What Is A Notary Public”, which explains in English and Spanish the lawful role of U.S. Notaries and how it differs from that of Notarios. Other resources include articles and best practices that advise Notaries not draft documents, give legal advice, or provide assistance in any way that could cross the line into the unauthorized practice of law.
The federal campaign will involve a plethora of agencies within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission and incorporate new and expanded education programs to provide legitimate, low-cost assistance to help immigrants and combat the unauthorized practice of law.
As part of the federal campaign, law enforcement agencies such as the FBI and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement are already investigating dozens of cases against Notarios. The FTC’s consumer Web site has been modified to accept complaints of immigration assistance scams. And a number of state Attorney’s General have announced similar actions in conjunction with the federal campaign. (See Related Article: Maryland Attorney General And Other AGs Join Historic, Nationwide Notario Crackdown)
Many of the cases include charges that the defendants deceptively advertised themselves as a Notario. A number of states in recent years have enacted laws banning or strictly regulating the use of Notario in advertisements. Even in states that do not ban the practice, Notaries should be very careful how they advertise their services.