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Chairman Nadler Statement for the Markup of H.R. 8225, the Fight Notario Fraud Act of 2020

Washington, September 15, 2020

Washington, D.C. – Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening remarks, as prepared, during the markup of H.R. 8225, the Fight Notario Fraud Act of 2020: 

"H.R. 8225, the 'Fight Notario Fraud Act of 2020,' would criminalize the unfortunately common practice of providing legal services—often fraudulently—in immigration matters to unwitting victims, despite having no legal authorization to practice law.

"This bill would create three new federal offenses.  First, it would outlaw the provision of fraudulent immigration services.  Second, it would proscribe misrepresentations by individuals who falsely claim to be authorized to practice immigration law.  And, finally, it would criminalize threats and retaliatory acts associated with the provision of fraudulent immigration services.

"Notario fraud is a particularly pernicious crime, as its perpetrators prey on some of the most vulnerable in our society.  Notario grifters take advantage of an inaccurate, but correct-sounding translation of 'notario público' in Spanish, to 'notary public' in English as a means to defraud unsuspecting patrons seeking immigration help.  In many Latin American countries, 'notarios públicos' are lawyers and, as such, are authorized to provide legal services; notaries in the United States have no such authority.

"Plying their fraud on unsuspecting victims, 'notarios'—as they market themselves—succeed by gaining the trust of the immigrant families they defraud.  They make extravagant promises and deliver very little, often actually causing harm.  Indeed, 'notario' fraud can have dire consequences.

"Notarios often make mistakes in legal filings, which can result in irreversibly negative immigration consequences for their victims.  For example, a notario’s legal errors can lead to an unfavorable posture for review in immigration courts and may prejudice the immigrant on appeal.  

"Fly-by-night notarios may also skip town with important documentation in their possession that immigrants need to file for immigration relief.   Or they may apply for relief without the applicant’s knowledge.  All of this may be detrimental to the victims who have entrusted them with their future and their hopes.

"It is only in rare occasions that a victim will challenge a notario’s fraud, as many immigrants are afraid to report notarios out of fear of retaliation.  By some estimates, only one in every hundred cases is ever reported to the authorities.  Underreporting and a lack of enforcement leaves notarios to continue and even to expand their scams.

"DOJ must refocus its criminal immigration fraud efforts on the prosecution of these notario grifters.  This bill provides DOJ explicit authorities to do so by providing for a set of strong sanctions for those who act to prevent or dissuade their victims from reporting their racket. 

"The bill would require the Attorney General to create at least 15 Special United States Attorney positions to prosecute notario fraud crimes.  These specially-focused federal prosecutors would be assigned to districts throughout the country where there is a high incidence of notario fraud.

"Importantly, the Fight Notario Fraud Act assigns the authority to prosecute and coordinate these cases to the Immigrant and Employee Rights Section within the Department of Justice, which already has a sophisticated intake system in place that can be adapted to accommodate these types of cases.

"In the past five years, the Immigrant and Employee Rights Section has developed a reputation for fair enforcement and has ensured that its ranks include bilingual attorneys who are well-qualified to communicate with victims of notario fraud.

"H.R. 8225 would also require the Immigrant and Employee Rights Section to publish a list of individuals who have been convicted of unlawful conduct or have been found by a State or Federal agency to have unlawfully provided immigration services.  This list is critical to prevent notaries—who might otherwise evade notice—from setting up shop elsewhere in the country.

"The Fight Notario Fraud Act is narrowly crafted to provide criminal penalties for the flagrant abuse of immigrants seeking relief.  It would hold accountable those who take advantage of some of the least sophisticated consumers and is a much-needed addition to the tools prosecutors can utilize to prevent fraud and abuse committed against a uniquely vulnerable population.

"I thank Representative Mucarsel-Powell for introducing this legislation and for her vision and her leadership on fighting the scourge of notarios fraud. 

"I ask my colleague to join me in supporting this important bill."
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