The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) has received a generous grant from the American Bar Association (ABA) Fund for Justice and Education through a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, to combat the increasing problem of notario fraud within the Arab American community. According to the ABA, “notarios” or “immigration consultants” operate throughout the United States and use false advertising and fraudulent contracts for services which cannot be provided. They exploit the trust of immigrants who are new to this country, unfamiliar with our language and legal system, and who assume that a “notario” is a lawyer with a duty to protect their interests. Notarios hold themselves out as qualified to help immigrants obtain lawful immigration status, and may charge a lot of money for help that they never provide. Often, immigrants’ permanently lose opportunities to pursue immigration relief because a notario has damaged their case.
Increasingly, notarios are exploiting the trust of recent immigrants to this country. Unfamiliar with English and the American legal system, many immigrants are misled to believe that a notario is a lawyer. Consequences for victims are extreme, including lost opportunities to pursue immigration relief. Most victims do not have the resources to seek assistance, which allows deceitful notarios to continue taking advantage of immigrants with no accountability. There is clearly a need within our community for greater awareness on how to combat the growing problem of fraudulent notarios.
In Dearborn alone there are a number of “immigration service centers” which offer a wide array of services. However, immigrants must know that these centers do not employ attorneys, and can not offer legal advice. Many victims of notario fraud are often pulled into believing they are dealing with an attorney. If these centers offer immigration advice that only an attorney can offer, they are participating in the unauthorized practice of law, which in many jurisdictions is a criminal offense. Individuals seeking immigration consultation should seek the advice of an attorney to ensure that their matter is handled properly.
Although these service centers may offer less expensive rates, they can not offer the same advice and counseling as an immigration attorney. For individuals who can not afford to pay an attorney, there are a number of low-cost immigration service centers which are either accredited by the Board of Immigration Appeals or have staff attorneys in the area. For a list of these centers an individual can call the ADC-Michigan Office at 313.581.1201. ADC-Michigan is accredited by the Board of Immigration Appeals and can point an individual in the right direction.
Recent decisions by different circuits across the country have opened the doors to relief for victims of notrario fraud. Victims of fraud have the opportunity to have their matter re-opened via a motion to reopen in front of an immigration judge. Furthermore, if the matter is at the appeals level, some circuits provide the opportunity to have the matters remanded back down to the immigration judge for proper adjudication. Individuals who believe they are victims of such fraud should discuss their matter with an attorney in hopes of rectifying the matter. Many jurisdictions will pursue criminal charges against those who are participating in the unauthorized practice of law and defrauding individuals through notario fraud operations.
All individuals going through the immigration process should keep updated about changes set forth by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services by visiting www.uscis.gov. An important change taking effect on October 18, 2008, states that if you live in Michigan and you file a Citizenship Application (N-400) on or after October 14, 2008, the application and related supplements must be submitted to one of two new lockboxes, USCIS Lockbox Facility, USCIS, P.O. Box 21251, Phoenix, AZ 85036 or by private courier to (non-USPS) USCIS, Attn: N400, 1820 E Skyharbor Circle S. Floor 1, Phoenix, AZ 85036.
ADC is proud to be the only Arab American organization to receive this grant. On Friday, October 10, ADC held training at its Prince Al-Waleed Heritage Center in Washington, D.C. addressing the serious issue of notario fraud and what can be done to help the victims of such fraud. The law firm of Bryan Cave, LLP, represented by David Zetoony, Esq. and Patrice Hayden, Esq., also gave a seminar about Consumer Protection.
Abed A. Ayoub, Esq., is Legal Advisor at the ADC National Office. He can be reached at 202-244-2990, or at email@example.com, with any questions.