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Warning to Immigrants: Beware of the Unauthorized Practice of Law by Notaries Public in New Jersey

 

In some Latin American countries, a notario or notario publico is a licensed lawyer. In the United States, “notaries,” “notaries public,” or “immigration consultants” are not lawyers. These people have been giving bad and incorrect advice to non-citizens who are trying to obtain immigration benefits. They charge thousands of dollars to file immigration applications. Often they fail to file the applications, file false or fraudulent documents, or file applications for programs that do not exist or for which a person does not qualify. This can result in deportation and the loss of life savings. This article will explain who is authorized to help you with your immigration matter, what to do if you cannot afford an attorney, and how to avoid fraud.

Who is authorized to help me with my immigration matter?

Only licensed U.S. attorneys and accredited representatives are authorized and qualified to assist you with your immigration matter. In many Latin American countries, the Spanish word notario publico refers to a person with legal expertise, but this is not the case in this country. In the U.S., a notary public may not give legal advice, prepare legal papers, or provide other legal services unless he or she is also a U.S.-licensed attorney or an accredited representative. You can find out if someone is licensed or accredited by contacting the bar association of the state where the person is licensed. You can also find a list of accredited representatives on the U.S. Department of Justice Web site.

What can I do if I can’t afford a private attorney?

If you cannot afford a private attorney, contact LSNJ-LAW™, Legal Services of New Jersey’s statewide, toll-free legal hotline, at 1-888-LSNJ-LAW (1-888-576-5529). If you are eligible, you will be able to speak with a licensed attorney or an accredited representative about your immigration matter.

What rights do I have?

It is important for you to know that you have certain rights when a lawyer or accredited representative is representing you in your immigration matter.

  • You have the right to a written contract, explaining the scope of representation and fees.
  • You have the right to be kept informed about your case.
  • You have the right to a complete copy of all forms or documents submitted in your case.
  • You have the right to a financial accounting of your case, detailing the total costs, as well as receipts for payments submitted.

How can I avoid being defrauded?

The following are important tips to avoid being defrauded:

  • Don’t pay money to someone to refer you to a lawyer.
  • Walk away if a lawyer does not have a license.
  • Never sign an application that you cannot understand. If you do not understand English, bring someone you trust to translate for you.
  • Never sign a blank application or an application that you know contains false information.
  • Always ask for copies of anything that is filed for you along with proof of filing.
  • Insist on a written contract that details all fees and expenses and make sure to get a receipt for every payment made.
  • If the terms of the contract change, ask for the change in writing.
  • Don’t let anyone “find” you a sponsor or spouse to get a green card for you. This is illegal.

What can I do if I am the victim of fraud by a notary public?

If you have been the victim of fraud by a notary public in New Jersey, you can report the fraud to the Attorney General or the Division of Consumer Affairs by calling 1-800-375-5283, or by e-mailing the Division of Consumer Affairs at: askconsumeraffairs@lps.state.nj.us.

This article is from the March 2008 issue of Looking Out for Your Legal Rights®.

This information last reviewed 10/28/11.

 

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Low-income New Jerseyans can get free legal help by phone: call our toll-free hotline at 1-888-LSNJ-LAW (1-888-576-5529), Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Outside of New Jersey, please call 732-572-9100 and ask to be transferred to the hotline.