Many foreign nationals are prey to immigration fraud when they consult with non-lawyers such as notarios and immigration consultants. These so-called specialists will, more often than not, give you legal advice which, by law, they are not authorized to do, take your money and file the wrong applications for you. In my legal practice, I have seen foreign nationals who were given the wrong advice by such notarios and have either become illegal in the United States for lack of proper consultation with an immigration attorney, or have ended up in removal proceedings because of their wrongful advice. Unfortunately, it is usually too late to remedy those situations by the time an experienced immigration lawyer steps in. There is little recourse one can take once he or she has become the victim of immigration fraud. In Florida for example, one can file a complaint for Unauthorized Practice of law with the Florida Bar, which will have the Bar investigate the activities of the notario or consultant and perhaps lead to a cease and desist order, stopping any future activities of that notario.
One can also file a lawsuit for civil damages against that person to recover fees paid in exchange for the service, as long as proof of payment and evidence of detrimental reliance and damages is presented. However, remember that one who is not a lawyer does not have the same professional liability than a notario or consultant does, thus it may be harder to show that the notario did not fulfill his portion of the contract.
If already placed in removal proceedings, the foreign national, with the help of the newly hired immigration lawyer, can, depending on the situation bring up the ineffective assistance of counsel/notario before the Immigration Judge. The Immigration Judge may take this into consideration when discretionary decisions are involved.
Notarios and legal consultants have recently preyed on foreign nationals after Secretary Napolitano's announcement of August 18, 2011 which has been wrongfully interpreted as an amnesty. Such announcement only applies to existing cases that are already in the system and is aimed at prioritizing serious immigration violators over others which clog up an already overburdened immigration court system. One should be extremely careful not to fall for notarios’ misleading representations that this change leads to grants of employment authorization or legal status. If you want more information on this announcement, you can visit the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA)'s consumer advisory or consult an experienced or specialized immigration lawyer.