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Florida Bar Warns People About Immigration Assistance Scams

legal-1302034_640With Donald Trump’s election as President of the United States stirring concerns about U.S. immigration policy, the Florida Bar sent out a warning last week, telling people to avoid seeking legal assistance from notaries (also known as “notaries”) who by law, are not authorized to offer immigration advice of any kind.

In a press release last week on their official website, the Florida Bar reported that several immigrant lawyers in Florida were flooded with calls from residents who were concerned about their immigration status.

“With that concern comes the risk of falling victim to scams or of relying on advice from those who are not qualified or licensed to offer it,” the release noted.

The danger is especially real, as there are several “notaries,” or someone working as a notary public, in Florida.  In Central America, they are also known as “notaria,” “notary publico,” and “escribano.”

“In (their) home countries, notaries often play a much larger role. In Florida, however, these people are not attorneys unless properly licensed to practice law in this state, and they should not be relied on for legal advice, because they cannot give legal advice,” the warning states.

The release also adds that, “Some people in Florida have been harmed after mistakenly seeking legal assistance from notaries or other nonlawyers who offer such services in immigration matters. In fact, incorrect advice can even begin or accelerate a deportation process.”

Leonardo Morales, a resident of Kendall, believes that this may be what happened to him and his family. He now faces deportation after residing in the United States for more than 10 years.

Morales his family first entered the country from Colombia on tourist visas, but later sought asylum to escape the gang and drug violence in their home country. According to Leonardo’s wife, the problem first started with Fredy Barragan, who has operated a business in Hialeah since 2001, offering assistance in filling out immigration forms. Barragan, however, pointed out that he has never claimed to be an immigration attorney, and that all paperwork he gives to clients clearly state so. His website also states this clearly on the homepage.

Although it’s easy to see why concerns about immigration and deportation are on an uptick in a Trump presidency, Mark Hohmeister, information coordinator of the Florida Bar, points out that the Bar also released a similar warning in 2014 after the Obama administration’s immigration executive order. He said that a spike in immigration inquiries usually follows any change or possible change to immigration law, an observation noted in an article in the Tampa Bay Times.

Instead, the Florida Bar recommends immigrants to visit their official website to check their database of lawyers using the “Find a Lawyer” function.

Unfortunately, this problem isn’t isolated to just Florida.  It’s occurring nationwide – and even here in Texas.  If you or anyone you know is concerned about the state of U.S. immigration policy in the near future, talk to the immigration law team of Lyttle Law Firm. Call our offices today at (512) 215.5225 to schedule a consultation.