Regulation and Prosecution Tools
In recent years, a handful of prosecutions around the country have begun to push notario fraud into the forefront of immigration policy conversations. Prosecutions and civil suits can put fraudulent practitioners of immigration services out of business or even behind bars. But, courtroom action alone rarely solves the larger problem. That requires a combination of regulatory action and enforcement by state and local authorities working in a vigorous partnership with community groups.
Prosecutors against notarios have been most successful arguing misconduct using civil claims such as trademark infringement, false advertising, and state consumer protection statutes, rather than focusing on unauthorized practice of law (Cantrell 2004).
However, more stringent regulatory policies could make prosecution the last resort. States and counties can extend oversight into the unauthorized practice of immigration law by enforcing consumer protection laws and by limiting the reach of fraudulent notario practices. In 1986, California was the first state to pass legislation regulating non-attorney service providers. The passage of the Immigration Consultant Act was motivated by IRCA’s passage that year and with knowledge that the state’s large population of undocumented immigrants would be seeking counsel.
Program Coordinator, Tomas Rivera Policy Institute
Other states followed suit. In 2001, Texas took action by implementing the Notary Public Statute. The statute aimed to control notario fraud through reforming notary business advertisements. This statute instructs that notary advertisements in languages besides English must include the statement “I am not an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas and may not give legal advice or accept fees for legal advice” in both the foreign language and in English (Thompson 2007).
If effective prosecution at the state level is pursued steadily, it has the potential to deter notario fraud and should get a higher priority still if Congress enacts any form of legalization. Prosecution is an expensive and often “last resort” option for individual immigrants, but certainly a worthwhile endeavor for those counties and states that want to combat illegal activity and are committed to protecting undocumented populations. There are cases that have been successful and have helped to set precedents for fighting fraudulent legal practices and to protect vulnerable immigrants.
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 Technology, Access & Use of Financial Services, Notario Fraud, and Driver's Licenses for the unauthorized.