NewsUSA and CanadaEnthusiasm for Biden's immigration agenda could increase 'notario' scams

    Enthusiasm for Biden’s immigration agenda could increase ‘notario’ scams

    Joe Biden’s first acts as president included taking steps to undo many of his predecessor’s restrictive immigration policies.

    But the several executive orders that were issued related to immigration, and Biden’s immigration reform bill – which are intended to usher in a more welcoming era for immigrants in the U.S. – could spell trouble for some immigrants in the short term. According to experts, the Biden administration’s announcements have caused some confusion in the community, and this has created an opportunity for scammers targeting the vulnerability of immigrants.

    According to Oscar Londoño, executive director of WeCount! a South Dade immigrant worker center, there is already an increase in notario fraud. Notarios are not authorized to provide legal advice, but nonetheless attempt to pose as accredited immigration attorneys. In many Latin American countries a “notario publico” is a legal professional, a far cry from a notary public in the United States, something that requires no training.

    “Recently, our members have been reporting an increase in notarios charging for applications that don’t exist, notarios encouraging them to pay exorbitant fees with promises of citizenship based on Biden’s proposal,” Londoño said. “So what we’re doing now is trying to counter that misinformation.”

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    The Biden proposal in question is an immigration reform bill that the president unveiled on his first day in office, which among other provisions establishes a path to citizenship for nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants. The announcement of that proposal, along with headlines about immigration-related executive orders signed by Biden, have created excitement and confusion among the immigrant population in Miami-Dade, according to local experts. That confusion could lead some to fall victim to fraudulent schemes.

    “There are a lot of people who think there has been a change in the law, but there hasn’t been,” said Adonia Simpson, director of family advocacy for the nonprofit law firm Americans for Immigrant Justice. In conversations with community members, Simpson emphasizes that “there’s no amnesty, there’s no change in the law and it’s not going to be a quick process. Don’t send in any kind of application.”

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    Particularly vulnerable to scams, especially when there are rumors of immigration reform, are people with limited English proficiency and little familiarity with complicated U.S. immigration laws and regulations.

    “There’s a lot of coverage in the immigration news and the first 100 days [of the Biden administration], and that means there’s also a lot of misinformation about what’s really going on. Especially for new immigrants who have just arrived and don’t understand how the process works. That misinformation happens and everyone gets excited and the notarios take advantage of that,” said Mariana Martinez, an organizer with the American Friends Service Committee, a nonprofit immigrant organization.

    While it is difficult to get accurate data on immigration fraud – in part because immigrants are often reluctant to report being victims of fraud for fear of being deported – legal experts say there are always more scams when immigration issues are being heavily publicized in the press.

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    Resorting to notarios can seriously jeopardize clients’ immigration cases and could end up placing them in deportation proceedings. Scams also cost dearly, and can represent losses of hundreds or even thousands of dollars. That economic cost could be exacerbated during the pandemic, as U.S. Hispanics, a group that comprises a large majority of the foreign-born population living in South Florida, have been disproportionately affected by the Covid-19-related economic downturn.

    To avoid falling victim to notario scams, Simpson, of Americans for Immigrant Justice, recommends always asking about the qualifications of immigration service providers (she suggests asking to see copies of their attorney certificates) before allowing them to give any legal advice. It is also important to ask for a receipt when paying for any legal services and to carefully review contracts before signing them.

    Individuals who cannot afford a private attorney can visit the Immigration Advocates Network website to find a non-profit provider in their area.

    Bazezew Zerihun
    Bazezew Zerihun
    Bazezew Zerihun is the Founder, CEO & EDITOR IN CHIEF of Awutar. He lives in Bole, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. By profession, he is Blogger, Content Writer, Web Designer, and Developer. If you want to get in touch with him write via: [email protected]


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