It is a violation of Washington State law to advertise services as a notario publico. If you paid a notario for immigration services you may be entitled to recover money from that individual or his business. A notario‘s victim may also qualify for a crime victim U-Visa.
Who is a notario?
The terms notario or notario publico refer to someone who is not licensed to practice law in the United States. These individuals offer to assist customers with legal forms, often including immigration matters. Sometimes these individuals will use the term immigration consultant. In other countries – such as some in Central and South America – notarios are a legally recognized category of professional. In those countries notarios operate legitimate businesses, and are allowed to prepare certain types of legal paperwork. But that is not true in the United States.
In the U.S. there are only two types of professionals who are authorized to advise clients about immigration matters. The first category is lawyers licensed to practice law. To be in this category a lawyer has to hold a valid law license in one of the 50 U.S. states, or District of Colombia. The second category is Board of Immigration Appeals accredited representatives. These individuals are required to work for a non-profit organization and are allowed to charge only a small fee for their services.
If an individual is not a lawyer or a non-profit accredited representative then it is illegal for them to advise on an immigration law matter. They are not permitted to advise customers about what immigration process they should pursue. It is also illegal for them to charge a fee to prepare immigration forms for customers.
If you paid a notario, you may be able to sue for financial damages.
Washington State has one of the strongest consumer laws in the country. Specifically, the Immigration Services Fraud Prevention Act (ISFPA) protects victims of unauthorized immigration advice. Under the ISFPA, a victim is able to sue a notario for damages caused by his unauthorized actions. Not only that, the victim may sue for three times the actual damages she suffered. Additionally, the statue authorizes a judge to award attorney fees and litigation costs to the victim. The ISFPA is a very strong tool for victims.
This Washington law is written broadly. Under the ISFPA, any of the following might be the basis for a successful lawsuit:
- Paying for services by an individual because they advertised themselves as a notario or notario publico.
- Paying someone who was not a lawyer to give advice on immigration matters.
- Paying someone who was not a lawyer to fill our immigration forms.
- Paying someone who was not a lawyer to file an immigration case.
If any of those things happened to you, you might be able to successfully sue the unauthorized business.
If you do sue a notario, what will you be able to get? Washington law potentially allows a victim to recover the following damages from a notario:
- Service fees paid to the notario (times three).
- Immigration filing fees in a case prepared by a notario (times three).
- Financial losses caused by the notario‘s unauthorized advice, such as lost work and pain/suffering (times three).
- Attorney fees paid to an immigration attorney to correct the notario‘s work (times three).
- Attorney fees for suing the notario.
- Litigation costs for suing the notario, such as court filing fees and deposition expenses.
The outcome of a lawsuit cannot be predicted with certainty, and depends on a large number of factors. But Washington law potentially allows a notario victim to receive some form of compensation for the harm she suffered.
A notario victim may also qualify for a U-Visa.
Providing unauthorized immigration advice is also a crime in Washington State. In some situations it may be possible for a notario victim to qualify for a U-Visa, which is available to certain crime victims. There are at least two major issues for someone in this sort of a case.
First, to qualify for a U-Visa a victim must have suffered substantial harm. It is up to Citizenship and Immigration Services to determine whether substantial harm existed in a particular case. An example of a strong notario U-Visa case could be where a victim was deported because he followed a notario‘s advice. Another example could be if the notario‘s bad advice caused the victim many months of stress and expense. In other cases a victim’s immigration lawyer may have a harder time convincing USCIS that the victim suffered sufficient harm.
Second, an immigration lawyer has to show that the notario‘s crime fits into the correct U-Visa category. In order to qualify for a U-Visa, the underling crime must fall into one or more set categories described in the immigration statute. There is a long list of such crimes, but generally the following categories are the ones that might match the notario‘s crime:
- Witness tampering, or
The first step in pursuing a U-Visa is to obtain a law enforcement certification. An agency is required to officially certify that you have been helpful to qualifying investigation. In most circumstances – where a notario is involved – the proper certifying agency will be the state Attorney General’s office.
Contact us if you were victimized by a notario.
If you were victimized by a notario in Washington State we would like to hear from you. In appropriate cases our law firm may be able to represent you at no up-front cost.