Philly lawmakers hear about harm ‘notarios’ can cause immigrants

A Philadelphia City Council hearing Tuesday focused on why immigrants have little recourse after paying thousands of dollars to “notarios” — or unlicensed providers of immigration services — and seeing no results.

It’s the same reason the first two witnesses testified from a back corner of council chambers. TV cameras were asked not to show their faces because of the risk  that the speakers could face trouble with immigration officials if they were identified publicly.

“We ended up without money and without papers,” said the second speaker, who paid $8,000 to a man who promised to help him fix his immigration status.

“Unfortunately, this happens every day,” he said. “Many people, because of fear, they don’t go to the police or another office because they have the fear of being deported.”

Immigration attorneys say mistakes or deliberate malpractice can cost immigrants who are eligible to legalize their status their chance to do so, while sucking up thousands of dollars. Citizens petitioning to help family members may also go to notarios, who are usually embedded in the immigrant communities they serve.

Called “notarios” in the Latino community, in whose home countries “notary publics” are actually attorneys, these immigration services providers may operate out of storefront travel agencies in Asian neighborhoods.

Attorneys and immigrant advocates are urging law enforcement do more to crack down on practitioners. Monica Vaca, who works for the FTC, said it’s hard to get people to come forward and report fraud when it occurs.

“If cases are not reported, police cannot investigate and we cannot prosecute,” she told council members.

The sponsor of the hearing at City Hall, Councilman Dennis O’Brien, has proposed legislation to make the city responsible for regulating and licensing all non-lawyers providing immigration services in Philadelphia.

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