James Eng, NBC News, August 14, 2012
As the first of what could be a million or more undocumented young immigrants applies for deportation relief this week under a new Obama administration policy, government, law enforcement and legal officials are warning them not to fall victim to unscrupulous immigration “consultants” ready to scam them.
So-called “notarios” operating in Spanish-speaking communities, some hiding under the guise of travel agencies, translation services and other businesses, are offering to help illegal immigrants navigate the process of applying for relief under the Obama program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA.
Notarios can charge hefty fees for services that are unnecessary or that they are not legally authorized to provide, officials say.
“Don’t Get Scammed!” reads a consumer advisory posted by the American Immigration Lawyers Association, which has held conference calls with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials about notario fraud.
The association has also established a website, stopnotariofraud.org, aimed at keeping immigrants from being victimized. The website warns in bold letters: “Notarios will take your money and your dreams!”
The Spanish word “notario” has different meanings in different parts of the world. In some Latin American countries, “notario” refers to a lawyer with special credentials. In Hispanic communities in the U.S., unlicensed, underground notarios have been peddling legal services or offering to help fill out the application forms for young undocumented immigrants seeking a reprieve and work permits under the new Obama policy.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans to set aside $600,000 for a legal team of immigration lawyers who will help illegal immigrants who apply under the new policy. It’s part of a state plan aimed at shielding illegal immigrants from fraud.
The DACA program, announced by Obama in June, provides temporary deportation relief and work permits to young undocumented immigrant who meet certain criteria. Unlike the better-known DREAM Act, legislation that has never passed Congress, DACA does not offer a path to citizenship.
The Migration Policy Institute estimates that as many as 1.76 million people could be eligible for an extra two years in the U.S. under the new DACA policy. Each applicant must pay a $465 filing fee to the government.