Notario publico sounds a lot like notary public, right? It’s easy to think the two are the same thing, that a notario publico in Mexico or Latin America is the same as a notary public in the United States. But there are actually major differences between the two, and U.S. immigrants should use caution when seeking help with immigration matters from a notary – or someone claiming to be a notario – in the U.S.
Those who fall victim to notario fraud – unknowingly paying money to someone who is not a licensed attorney for help with their immigration matters – can face serious consequences, including denial of a visa, residency or citizenship, loss of employment or even deportation because these so-called notarios often file paperwork incorrectly, or neglect to file it all together.
Below we cover the differences between a notario publico and a notary public in the U.S., warning signs that you might be walking into a notario scam and resources for immigrants to help avoid and fight notario fraud. When in doubt, it’s best to seek the help of a licensed immigration attorney like Emilie Pla at Robinson & Henry, P.C. An immigration attorney can advise you on the best course of action for your case, help you complete your paperwork and represent you in immigration court.
Emilie is a Colorado immigration attorney in Robinson & Henry’s Denver office who represents clients in immigration matters from obtaining visas to avoiding deportation. Emilie speaks both English and Spanish.
Notario publico versus notary public: understanding the differences
A notario publico in Mexico or Latin America
- To become a notario in Mexico, one must be an attorney of law with a minimum of five years of practical experience. Applicants must also be Mexican by birth and older than 35. You must also pass an examination and be appointed by the governor of the state in which you live. Additionally, there is only one notario appointed for every 30,000 people per populated area.
- A notario in Mexico can be an arbitrator or a mediator. He/she can also issue judicial opinions or intervene in judicial proceedings. A notario can also establish corporations, last will and testaments, real estate transactions, Powers of Attorney and many other legal documents. Notarios also ensure that documents such as these do not contain any legal inconsistencies.
A notary public in the United States
- The requirements for becoming a notary vary state by state, but usually require at least an application, fee and proof of residency in the state where the applicant is seeking to become a notary. In Colorado, the applicant must also attend a training class and pass and exam. Learn more about the requirements for becoming a notary public in Colorado here.
- The powers and duties of a notary can also vary state by state, so it’s important to understand what a notary can and cannot do in your state. In Colorado, a notary can administer oaths and affirmations and certify copies. They can also take acknowledgements, depositions, affidavits, verifications and other sworn testimony or statements.
- A notary in the United States does not have to have a law degree or be a licensed attorney and, in fact, many aren’t. As the Alabama State Bar puts it in their Notary Public and Lawyers pamphlet, a notary is not authorized to practice law and cannot fill out forms or give counsel regarding immigration petitions nor lend any services of a legal nature.
The key takeaways here are that 1) it takes more education and experience to become a notario in Mexico than it does to become a notary in the United States, 2) a notario in Mexico is also an attorney, while a notary in the United States is usually not an attorney and 3) notarios in Mexico have far more power and responsibility then notaries in the United States.
Notario fraud: know the warning signs
When looking for legal help with immigration matters in the United States – whether advice on your status, filing paperwork or obtaining the right visa – you should be wary of individuals who sell themselves as notarios, immigration consultants or visa consultants and claim to offer any services beyond that of a document preparer.
A document preparer can only legally provide one service, literally that of preparing documents. A document preparer can fill out an immigration form with the exact information provided for them by the applicant – and translate that information from Spanish into English if necessary – and that is all.
- It is illegal for a notary who is not a licensed Colorado attorney to represent or advertise himself/herself as an immigration consultant or an expert on immigration matters.
- It is illegal for a nonattorney notary to use the phrase notario publico in advertisements for their services.
- A notary must include a statement (the wording for which is supplied by the state) that says he/she is not an attorney, an immigration consultant nor an expert on immigration matters. The statement must be provided in both English and any other language used in the advertisement.
To recap, the following warning signs could signal notario fraud in Colorado:
- The individual claims to be a notario publico.
- The individual claims to be an immigration consultant or an expert on immigration matters, but cannot provide proof that he/she is a licensed attorney in the State of Colorado.
- The individual claims to be authorized to represent immigrants before immigration courts or before the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service, but cannot provide proof that he/she is a licensed attorney.
When in doubt, always ask for proof that the individual is a licensed attorney.
Resources for immigrants
Use these resources to educate yourself about and help protect yourself and your relatives against notario fraud.
- UnidosUS | Protect Yourself From Notario Fraud | English | Español
- American Bar Association | Fight Notario Fraud, Resources for Victims
The licensed immigration attorneys, Lucas Padilla Frei and Emilie Pla, in Robinson & Henry’s Denver office are also here to be your resource and to help you navigate your immigration matters. We offer a free initial consultation to get you started; call 303-338-2365 to take the first step today by requesting a free consultation.