Eye on notaries' public immigration scam

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State officials armed with new regulations announced yesterday that they're cracking down on notaries public who've been illegally offering immigration services.

New York Secretary of State Cesar A. Perales said the new rules, which take effect in 90 days, are designed to "put the brake on immigration scammers."

Community advocates and immigration attorneys have long denounced the practice by some notaries of charging immigrants to file petitions that are often botched, or fraudulent legalization requests. Some of those filings leave immigrants not just out of money but at risk of deportation.

Part of the problem is what's lost in translation. Notaries perform legal functions similar to attorneys in some Latin American countries.

Under the regulations, notaries are barred from misrepresenting themselves. Their advertisements must state that they are not licensed attorneys "and may not give legal advice about immigration or any other legal matter."

Those failing to comply could lose their commissions, face up to $1,000 fines per violation and may be reported to the attorney general's office for further enforcement.

"This is something we needed to make clear. It's unlawful and these individuals are targeting vulnerable immigrants," said Deputy Secretary of State Marcos Vigil.

While most of the state's more than 285,000 notaries public -- more than 65,000 of them on Long Island -- are law-abiding, the agency will be canvassing key immigrant neighborhoods to spot fraudsters, Vigil said.

Brian Johnson, an immigration attorney in Bay Shore, said lawyers have to address fraudulent filings from notaries that hurt their clients' cases, calling the issue "a massive problem."

Patrick Young, alawyer and immigration advocate with Central American Refugee Center in Brentwood and Hempstead, said many notaries have advertised immigration services in the open for years.

"They have to start actually fining people to send the message," he said.

William A. Anderson of the National Notary Association supports the safeguards, noting that other states have taken similar steps.

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