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Notary public scams prey on immigrants

When Salvadoran immigrant Irma Yolanda Membreno-Alemán wanted to apply for temporary asylum, she did what she would have done for any legal matter back home: She went to see a notario publico.

It was a lost-in-translation mistake that cost her thousands of dollars, a rejection of her petition and loss of her work authorization and her job, a lawsuit claims.

In much of Latin America, most notary publics are also lawyers. In the United States, a notary public is not a lawyer and cannot give legal advice; he can administer oaths and witness signatures, and that’s it.

The difference has allowed scam artists to prey on immigrants with limited English skills and little understanding of the American legal system by misrepresenting themselves as lawyers, immigration lawyers say.