In April 2010, a bill was introduced in the New Jersey State Assembly which increased the criminal penalties and added a civil remedy against those engaging in the unauthorized practice of immigration law. “Notarios” and immigration consultants who conduct business as attorneys and hold themselves out as attorneys-at-law have been an ongoing and growing problem for the past several decades in the United States. The practice of immigration law by non-attorneys, however, has not received any substantive attention for years until now.
A notario or notary public in some Latin American countries is a licensed lawyer. In the United States, a notary or immigration consultant is not a licensed lawyer. Unfortunately, many immigrants seeking to adjust their status to a Lawful Permanent Resident or a United States Citizen turn to the advice of local notaries and immigration consultants in their communities. As a result, many receive bad and incorrect advice which may cost them more than just the loss of what they are charged monetarily.
Too often, the notario or immigration consultant will fail to file the correct applications, file applications for programs that do not exist or ones that the immigrant does not qualify for, and/or will submit false or fraudulent documents. The incorrect filing or fraudulent filing of applications for immigration benefits can result in Deportation Proceedings.
Only a licensed attorney from New Jersey (or other State in the United States) can assist you with your immigration matter. A “notario” in the United States does not mean what it means in many Latin American countries. These individuals are not legal experts or licensed to practice law in the United States.
In the United States a notary public may not give legal advice, prepare legal papers, or provide other legal services unless he or she is also a United States licensed attorney. You can find out if someone is licensed by contacting the State bar association of the State where the person is licensed.
It is important to note the difference between engaging the services of a notary or immigration consultant and a licensed attorney. A notary or immigration consultant will normally not give you a written contract, keep you informed about your case, give you a complete copy of all forms or documents submitted in your case, and accompany you to your immigration interview with the USCIS office which is making a final decision on your case.
The new legislation allows many immigrants to see the notaries and immigration consultants who have defrauded them receive more severe punishment. Instead of a disorderly persons offense or fourth degree, a person who either practices law without a license or engages in the practice of law or holds themselves out to the public as an attorney will be charged with a third degree criminal offense. This means that instead of a $1,000 fine and possible imprisonment of 6 months in jail, the same offense will be punishable by three to five years in jail and a $15,000 fine. In addition the new legislation also allows many immigrants to file civil actions against the notaries or immigration consultants who have defrauded them. They will be able to seek an award of damages from a civil court in an amount of $1,000 or three times the value of all costs to them.
If you are concerned that your case was improperly filed by a notary or immigration consultant, you can contact me to review your file or provide you with further advise. For a consultation, please contact my office at:
Michele Alcalde, Esq.
331 Newman Springs Road
Building 1, Suite 143
Red Bank, NJ 07701
Office (732) 784-1822
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