Notarios prey on immigrants, scam them of thousands
Glenwood Springs immigration lawyers Jennifer Smith and Ted Hess, who operate separate practices, have seen too many cases where an immigrant attempting to save money has been scammed out of thousands, even tens of thousands, of dollars by notarios — non-lawyers who offer legal services illegally.
The consequences for the clients, besides lost money, could be anything from jail time to deportation.
Notarios, who claim to offer service dealing with legal matters for immigrants for less money than a lawyer, make promises they can’t keep in the legal and immigration systems. By doing so, they start a messy snowball effect for lawyers and clients.
“I am sure that there are some non-lawyers who want to help out of the goodness of their hearts,” Smith said. “But it is best to go through an immigration lawyer. One little mistake can have a huge consequence.”
Most notarios are suspected of unauthorized practice of law, with the malevolent intent of taking money from immigrants, often those trying to uphold the conditions of their visa, acquire a green card or become a U.S. citizen.
“There isn’t a doubt in my mind that most notarios are in the business to do some damage, and we just don’t know about them yet,” Hess said. “We try to work with a lot of notarios to make sure they don’t do anything they’re not authorized to do, but it’s hard to keep track.”
It is believed part of the reason notarios are able to attract clients is due to a linguistic difference between the English and Spanish languages.
“In the Hispanic world and language, the word ‘notario’ refers to an attorney which has governmental powers. These are lawyers considered senior, and they’re put on a pedestal by the population,” Hess said. “When a Hispanic person comes to the U.S. and they come across someone who is a notary public, it is very easy for them to possibly get seduced into believing this person is an elevated lawyer who does business in Mexico. The problem with that terminology is the beginning of the problem.”
Notarios also likely are popular simply through word of mouth, Smith said.
“I think we live in a culture of fear,” Smith said. “And for someone who is an immigrant, I think certain legal matters involving immigration create that fear.”
Immigrants, she said, think, “‘Don’t make yourself known, don’t make a trail.’ It makes for a secretive culture, and it causes someone who needs help to seek the wrong kind of help. We as lawyers have to remind people that because we are involved with the immigration process, we do not work for the government. The best way to combat [this] and consequences attached to notario fraud is knowing who the right people are to go to for help.”
The most recent known case of notario fraud in the Roaring Fork Valley was in 2007, but Smith noted that most cases of fraud go unreported because victims fear they will face further consequences such as deportation.
One of the more well-known notarios who caused residents of the valley trouble was Delsio Ramero, who was a notario in 1990s.
“With Delsio Ramero, we learned she used recruiters and worked from California,” Smith explained. “She would meet with clients two or three times, and then disappear, taking money with her. She would have clients file for asylum, which would then be denied by the court, leading to a call for deportation for the client, and the client would have no idea that the call even existed until it was too late. This is just one example of some of the ways things can go wrong through working with a notario who has bad motives in mind.”
Smith said one way to combat notarios is for anyone who has been a victim of this kind of fraud to report it to the Colorado Supreme Court.
To learn more about notario fraud, visit the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration website at http://www.uscis.gov/, or contact Ted Hess at 970-945-5300 or Jennifer Smith at 970-945-5111.
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