MIAMI -- The Florida Bar Association is warning people seeking advice on immigration to avoid using non-lawyers for such advice. Notaries, or notarios, allegedly have been preying on those looking for legal guidance on immigration issues by offering unqualified advice and illegal services.
Recently, Florida immigration lawyers have been flooded with calls from those concerned about their immigration status, especially in light of President-elect Trump's campaign comments on immigration reform. The Florida Bar Association notes a particular concern with the use of notarios.
"Many people of Hispanic descent are confused as to what services a notary public -- or people with similar titles such as 'notaria,' 'escribano' or 'notario público' -- can provide regarding immigration matters," The Florida Bar Association said in a statement. "In their home countries, notaries often play a much larger role. In Florida, however, these people are not attorneys unless properly licensed to practice law in this state, and they should not be relied on for legal advice, because they cannot give legal advice."
Some who have sought these services have been purportedly harmed after mistakenly seeking legal assistance in immigration matters.
"These 'notaries' advertise in a variety of ways," Ada Pozo, a Miami immigration lawyer at Pozo Goldstein LLP, told the Florida Record. "Usually they will set up a shop in a strip
mall or storefront, and will say they provide ‘services’ for immigrants, like
accounting services, notarizing services, immigration services. Unfortunately these people are
not lawyers. They’re essentially practicing law without a license and they’re giving out dangerous advice."
Pozo said her firm partners with the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the local media in immigration outreach efforts to get the message out about notarios and to encourage concerned immigrants to avoid seeking out legal advice from people who are not licensed attorneys.
"Often times, notarios will encourage people to incorrectly fill out forms, or sign blank forms, leaving these victims completely unaware that they've committed fraud by signing these forms," Pozo said. "Prices
are cheap compared to average legal fees, and these notarios will charge for forms and printing forms
you can find for free online."
The Florida Bar offers a number of resources for people seeking legal advice on immigration. They encourage anyone with questions about their status to check whether a person is in good legal standing through their website or by calling (850) 561-5839.
Anyone who wishes to report a person fraudulently offering legal advice without a license to practice law may do so by going to www.floridabar.org/UPL. Click on "Consumer Information" where a link will direct you to a complaint form and further information on obtaining a licensed lawyer.
"Outreach services have been successful, but unfortunately as soon as one of these places gets shut down, another one pops up," Pozo said.
For more information and resources regarding this issue, visit www.floridabar.org/immigration. There are links to the pamphlets, the Federal Trade Commission’s immigration toolkit and a video that teaches viewers the warning signs of a notario scam and tells them where they can find help with the immigration process.