Monday, June 13, 2005

Lawyer impersonators prey on Hispanic consumers

The Nashville Scene reports on Nashville's problem with notarios, who offer legal services under a title that implies that they are lawyers:

"The stories all sound alike. A Hispanic immigrant who doesn't speak any English wants to apply for temporary protected immigration status in the U.S. She can't afford the $200 consultation fee many lawyers charge to determine which forms and schedules need to be filled out and sent to which office of which branch of the federal government. So she seeks out a Spanish-speaking notario, who promises to help her file the proper government paperwork. In the process, something gets screwed up, and before long she is arrested and deported."

"In Latin American countries, a notario is a type of civil attorney who has the authority of the government to verify legal documents. In the U.S., though, a notary is just a professional witness - someone with a stamp who certifies that you personally signed a form. It's a big difference - and a source of confusion that businesses who prey on immigrants mine for cash. Basically, they make legal judgments without legal training."

"That scenario plays out every day across the country, according to local immigration lawyers and national advocacy groups, and among Nashville's growing Spanish-speaking population it's increasingly common. Last month, a Department of Justice attorney sent Nolensville Road business Ceja Enterprises a 'cease and desist' letter, warning it that 'any further attempts to represent individuals' in front of the Executive Office for Immigration Review and the Department of Homeland Security 'will be a violation of federal regulations.'"

"Jennifer J. Rosenbaum, a staff attorney with Southern Migrant Legal Services, says one of the root causes of unauthorized immigration law practice is the lack of cheap legal services for immigrants. 'Until there are other kinds of options for people, enforcement's only going to go so far,' she says, citing the need for collaborative efforts among bar associations, private granting agencies and the government. 'I think right now there's growing recognition of the problem, but we still need to find some solutions.'"

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