On our radio program last week, we were talking about two types of immigration cases that are often misunderstood by immigrants: ten-year cancellation of removal cases and asylum cases. We frequently see clients that have been to a “notario” to get help with their immigration cases. Why folks do not go to an attorney in the first place is often the result of two reasons: (1) the notario is far cheaper, and (2) there is a misunderstanding of the notario’s ability to help. In many countries that do not have legal systems based on the common law, which includes most of the non-English speaking world, civil law notaries possess far greater legal authority than they do in the United States. They handle non-contentious legal matters, in a function much like a solicitor. In the United States, notaries public are persons who primarily administer oaths and witness the execution of certain documents, such as affidavits and deeds. A civil law notary trains in the law at the baccalaureate level and higher. A Florida notary public takes an online course and a quiz. I should know, as I am a notary public. Got the stamp!

So the usual scenario is that the immigrant goes to the notario and asks how he or she can get legal status because, thanks to the Real ID Act, getting a drivers license is not possible anymore without some sort of status. Scenario one: If the immigrant has been here for over ten years, the notario says it’s simple, we’ll get you ten year cancellation. Fill out the papers, its easy! Scenario two: we’ll apply to get you asylum. Easy!

But the path to ten-year cancellation of removal runs through the immigration court. You can rest assured that the notario won’t be there. Only licensed attorneys, some law students working under an attorney’s direct supervision, and Board of Immigration Appeals-accredited representatives are allowed to sit in the chair next to you in the court room.

Similarly, most notario asylum applications are what we call “bare bones” applications, including only minimum information. The path to asylum goes through an asylum officer and possibly the immigration court as well. Guess what? Once again, the notario won’t be there. We have seen cases where the potential asylee did not go to an interview because the notario failed to notify the potential asylee of the appointment notice! If a potential asylee does not present an credible case to the asylum officer, or they do not show up, the application may be denied and the applicant will be referred to immigration court, where making a credible case is more difficult and costly, and where a removal order is entirely possible.

The bottom line: notarios are not cost effective. They frequently damage an immigrant’s case, which will ultimately require significant– and expensive–work by a licensed attorney to resolve. Most attorneys, when confronted with an immigration issue, will steer clear because they know that immigration law is complex. Why trust a notario to do work that many lawyers won’t take on?