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It can be pretty confusing, as the term notario in Mexico and many Latin American countries often refers to lawyers, and in places like San Antonio, Texas, immigration attorneys are in high demand. But according to this article in, businesses operating with the term notario in their name are handing out legal immigration advice fraudulently, and to the detriment of individuals’ and families’ immigration cases across the U.S.

How are they getting away with it? Immigration attorneys in San Antonio speculate that it’s partly due to the confusion over the immigration-reform debate in Congress. The Senate did pass a bill in June, 2013 that calls for a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. now. However, that bill is stalled in the House of Representatives, and no new immigration laws have been passed by Congress or signed by President Obama. But you wouldn’t know it unless you spoke and read English really well, to be able to decipher much of the complex news issued about the bill and the immigration reform debate from various media sources.

Some business have been taking advantage of this confusion, it would seem, handing out bogus legal advice and pocketing the exorbitant fees paid up by undocumented immigrants in need of immigration attorneys, or even just a little help filling out paperwork in English. Known as notaries, these businesses capitalize on the linguistic confusion resulting from what notario implies in America, and what it signifies in Mexico and other Latin American countries. While “lawyer” and “attorney” are often used interchangeably in casual conversation (even though they technically retain different designations), what’s lost in translation for the word notario covers a much wider gap.

In most of Latin America, notarios are individuals who have completed long, legal university studies and who have passed difficult exams, and are often qualified to provide legal advice to their clients. While not quite abogados, (similar to attorneys) who have paid dues to the Colegio de Abogados and is licensed to practice law, notarios are often legitimately helpful on diverse legal matters, much as immigration attorneys in San Antonio would be. However, in America, the term notario is used to mean little more than a notary public. This distinction becomes particularly problematic in the wake of the immigration reform talk, where American businesses advertising as notarios are requiring a high fee to help undocumented individuals fill out immigration forms and encouraging them to file applications for benefits for which they don’t actually qualify.

Immigration attorneys will tell you that the results can be disastrous. Wrongfully applying for benefits can flag an undocumented individual for deportation and jeopardize their status in the U.S., not to mention nearly bankrupt hardworking immigrant families struggling to gain legitimacy in this country. The actions of these notario businesses amounts to fraud, and many of these organizations are finding themselves accountable to state Bar associations to cease and desist, but there remains little recompense for individuals who would have been better off with immigration attorneys in the first place.

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