Notario Fraud

History of The Problem: Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986


Awareness of notario fraud was heightened in the wake of the passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. That legislation was meant to stop the flow of undocumented immigrants into the U.S. by imposing sanctions on employers and to create legalization programs for some of the undocumented immigrants already living in the U.S. Some applicants had to prove they had been employed in agriculture. Others had to demonstrate they had been living in the U.S. since January 1, 1982. A first stage involved applying for temporary residence valid for 18-months after which time there was a one-year window to apply for legal permanent residency and five years later, eligibility for U.S. citizenship  (Migration Policy Institute 2005).

IRCA processing greatly expanded the black market niche for fraudulent notarios, as the demand for services outmatched the supply of qualified providers of legal services. In order to meet these demands the Immigration and Naturalization Service (the Department of Justice agency that implemented domestic immigration policy prior to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2002) authorized non-governmental service providers designated as a “Qualified Designated Entity” (QDEs) to help file applications. However, according to a 2005 report by the Migration Policy Institute, many QDEs “were little more than legalization entrepreneurs determined to collect the reimbursement fee while providing little true assistance” (Migration Policy Institute 2005).

More than three million unauthorized immigrants applied for temporary residency through IRCA, and 2.7 million received permanent residency (Migration Policy Institute 2005). Due to the nature of “living in the shadows” as undocumented immigrants, it is not possible to know exactly the breadth of notario fraud during the IRCA process and in subsequent years. Many of the victims are understandably anxious to report cases of fraud at risk of exposing their undocumented status, and many do not even know that they have been defrauded. A recent poll, however, did reveal that 13% of the immigrant population in the U.S. reported receiving help from notarios, and 10% were not certain that their representatives were attorneys (Georgetown 2013).


About this project

The Tomás Rivera Policy Institute, a university research center with the mission to address the challenges and opportunities of demographic diversity in the 21st century global city, has produced these featured digital publications using the USC Media Curator, an online publishing platform designed to bring together innovative research from across the University of Southern California and beyond. This project curates research relevant for immigrant service providers on the topics of Access & Use of TechnologyAccess & Use of Financial ServicesNotario Fraud, and Driver's Licenses for the unauthorized.


Photo Courtesy of Chicago News Tribune

Chicago cracking down on ‘notarios’

Chicago’s consumer protection office has been cracking down on businesses providing fraudulent immigration services, reported Juan Perez Jr of the Chicago Tribune, in Chicago cracking down o...more.