In their Own Words: Affiliates Urge Cooperation to End Notario Fraud

Sep 16, 2011
Sue Colussy

Several government agencies including United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Federal Trade Commission, the Executive Office for Immigration Review, and the Department of Justice’s Civil Division have joined forces to participate in the Administration’s Unauthorized Practice of Immigration Law Initiative.  Unauthorized practice is a subject familiar to CLINIC and its affiliates.  The following guest blog is the second in a series of featured posts on this important issue:

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The mountains of North Georgia are full of apple orchards, indigenous Guatemalans who pick the apples, and people who prey upon them for their own gain.  There was one egregious situation of a notario, who, with her 16 year old daughter, filed asylum applications for these workers, funneling clients directly to removal proceedings. I always wondered whether the actions of this notario resulted from ignorance, greed, or some anti-immigrant plot to help rid her area of Hispanics.  She completed each form using one of three possible stories, always the same, which bore no resemblance to the client’s true story. I understand that this notario was finally convicted and jailed for this unauthorized practice of law.

Atlanta is lucky that one of our immigration judges cares deeply about such unauthorized practice of law.  He would question a respondent on the record about who completed his/her forms, what that person may have said about being a lawyer and the applicant’s true story.  We often received cases on referral when the real story was strong and we were given time to “amend” the application with the truth.  The judge kept lists of these cases and once called a meeting of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), the state bar, local non-profits, the county solicitor and others to press for more action against identified notarios.  For example, one well-known notario was a former legal aid secretary.  Furthermore, another notario was convinced he was eligible to appear before the court and stubbornly did so several times. The judge worked with AILA and a local solicitor to gain a conviction against him and, after he was convicted, helped the authorities to locate the notario for incarceration.  The actions of this immigration judge assisted many individuals who otherwise would have been irreparably harmed by these unscrupulous practitioners. 

The unauthorized practice of law will not end until government officials, non-profits, private practitioners and law enforcement work together to prosecute offenders and increase the capacity of non-profits to help people in need of legal assistance.

*Sue Colussy is the former Executive Director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, a long-time affiliate of CLINIC. 

 

CLINIC supports the Administration’s goal of ensuring that the practice of immigration law is limited to licensed attorneys and those recognized by the Board of Immigration Appeals. To this end, CLINIC is dedicated to assisting and expanding its strong network of non-profit legal service providers through substantive legal training, capacity building, and administrative advocacy.

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