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Feds should end 'notario' deception

Sep 5, 2013
In The News

The problem is all too common in Texas and especially the Rio Grande Valley — so much so that the state attorney general’s office has a special office to deal with it, and periodically conducts special sweeps to arrest those who fraudulently promise to process immigrants’ documents.

But immigration is a federal matter, and related crimes should be addressed through federal, not state law. U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Ill., has filed a bill that would rightfully enforce fraud against immigrants in federal courts. We trust that his colleagues in Congress will agree that federal enforcement is correct, and pass the bill quickly.

One of the most common ways to take advantage of new U.S. residents, particularly from Mexico, is through misrepresentation of the duties and powers of notaries public. Mostly this occurs because of language barriers.

Mexican law allows for public legal advisers called “notarios.” These specialized lawyers review contracts, deeds and other legal documents to ensure that they comply with all applicable laws. Obviously they require thorough knowledge of those laws, and they can earn a lot of money from any one case.

In the United States, however, a notary simply acts as a witness to legal oaths and signatures on wills, title transfers and similar documents. They only attest to the signature and the identity of the person signing the documents. That person is responsible for its contents — not the notary — and state law prevents notaries from charging more than $6 for their services, according to data on the Texas secretary of state’s website.

Virtually any person with a clean criminal record who pays a small fee can become a notary public; it does not require the special training that Mexican notarios must have. As such, Texas has some 360,000 notaries public, while all of Mexico has just a few hundred notarios.

A Texas notary public does not have the authority, and probably doesn’t have the expertise, to handle immigration applications. Yet some misrepresent themselves to immigrants like they do. And some charge hundreds of dollars for forms that federal immigration offices provide free or can be downloaded for free from federal websites.

Our attorney general prosecutes immigration scams by enforcing the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act and the Notary Public Act; the latter specifically forbids notaries from providing immigration services or practicing law, unless they are licensed lawyers. Federal law, however, specifically oversees immigration issues, since it is a federal matter. U.S. law allows only licensed lawyers or organizations specially accredited by the Justice Department’s Board of Immigration Appeals to provide immigration consulting services. Scammers who violate those laws should be prosecuted in federal courts.

In the current debate over the need for immigration reform, too many Americans, including much of Congress, are focusing on border security. We have long held that many immigrants bypass legal procedures because those procedures are woefully outdated and inefficient.

Rep. Foster’s bill offers the kind of immigration reform — protection for those who try to come here legally — that some people might overlook, but is just as necessary as the attention that also must be given to those who try to cross illegally.