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Be Careful Who You Trust

By Maria L. Santos - Posted on 20 February 2015

Practicing immigration law, I very quickly got used to calls from people who have been wronged because they paid thousands to a person or agency claiming to offer immigration assistance only to find out months or years later that their situation is not improved. In the Spanish-speaking communities, these people are often known as “notarios.” By the time I see the individual, he/she has been seriously wronged and sometimes to the point where there is no way to fix the problems.

There are several reasons why this happens. First, immigrant communities tend to stick together. I remember that when my family first came to the USA, we lived in the part of the city where most Portuguese immigrants lived. This is one way immigrant communities deal with the language barrier and/or hiding a lack of proper immigration documentation. These communities operate on a “referral” system in which people send their friends to see the local agent or notario rather than seeking qualified legal assistance outside of the community. Mistakenly believing that a member of their community would not act unethically.

Second, these folks perceive that attorneys who are knowledgeable about immigration are just going to cost too much. But I often see cases where my office would have charged less than these people have already paid to the notarios or agencies that have messed up the cases or simply not done anything at all. The notarios and agencies rarely help immigrants get the result they needed.

Third, the law needs to provide solutions that attorneys can actually offer to clients. When there are no legal options, unscrupulous people take advantage of desperate immigrants. They seem to just invent things so that they can collect money from people. I cannot count the number of people who have called, e-mailed, sat in our conference room whom I have had to sadly tell that there is no solution for them in the law at this time.

Notarios or agents are not working within the ethical rules of the legal profession. Many of them just want to make easy money from people who can ill-afford the cost in money, time and unnecessary complications.