Arlington, VA

This sponsored column is by James Montana, Esq. and Doran Shemin, Esq., practicing attorneys at Steelyard LLC, an immigration-focused law firm located in Arlington, Virginia. The legal information given here is general in nature. If you want legal advice, contact James for an appointment.

Times are tough, and law is expensive. But if you feel that you can’t afford an immigration lawyer on the private market, you have choices.

Comparison shop — rates differ widely. Ask for a payment plan; many lawyers offer them. If you’re truly hard up for cash, talk to one of the many good immigration charities in our area. Do not, under any circumstances, hire a notary to prepare your green card application.

Notaries who practice law without a license are pests. Many notaries use the term “notario publico,” which is a literal translation of “notary public,” to confuse victims. In many Spanish-speaking countries, a notario publico is an attorney.

Thus, the victims, who are unaware of how our legal system works, are deceived into believing that they are working with a real lawyer. Instead, they have hired a “notario” — literally, a notary, but, in this context, a thief.

Notarios frequently make clients believe that they are eligible for certain benefits when in fact, they’re not. Another common problem we see with clients who work with a notario is the notario charges a ton of money and then does not deliver on the services promised. When the bars reopen, you can bore attractive new acquaintances with the following fact: the statutory maximum fee for notarization, here in the Commonwealth, is $5. That’s how much it’s worth.

The DMV is no stranger to notarios, unfortunately. For example, a former leader of a Virginia immigrant organization posed as an attorney. The notario was prosecuted and sentenced to two years in prison after swindling two clients out of thousands of dollars. Our office has clients whose cases this notario formerly handled, and those cases required fixing.

We also recently highlighted another client’s story, that of Mr. M., who went to a non-attorney for his travel permit application. Because he did not have the backing of an attorney or other qualified person helping him, he did not have the support or expertise he needed when things went wrong until it was too late.

Some people make the mistake of working with a notario because they believe that all they are doing is filling out a bunch of forms. But what many clients, and probably many notarios, don’t realize is that the questions on the immigration forms have complex legal implications.

Sometimes checking the wrong box or stating the tiniest lie could have lasting consequences. All too often, we see cases that notarios have made much more difficult, and sometimes, impossible.

If you or someone you know has been the victim of a notario, we recommend reporting the notario to the authorities, whether it be the relevant state bar association or consumer protection program.

But to avoid ever having this problem, you should always work with a licensed attorney, like the attorneys in our office, to make sure the job is done right. We are also here to try to right the wrongs of these notarios.

Oh, and if you want a document notarized, call us for an appointment. In our office, notarization is a courtesy. We’re happy to do it for clients and non-clients alike.

As always, we welcome any comments and will do our best to respond.

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