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Foster bill aims to crack down on fraud against immigrants

U.S. Rep. Bill Foster center discusses notario fraud World Relief Thursday. Foster was joined by Gonzalo Arroyo left executive director

U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, center, discusses notario fraud at World Relief Thursday. Foster was joined by Gonzalo Arroyo, left, executive director of Family Focus Aurora, and Carlos Martin Jiménez Macías, right, Chicago's Consulate General of Mexico. Photo cr

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Updated: December 4, 2013 6:27AM

AURORA — U.S. Rep. Bill Foster (D-Naperville) wants to see the United States get tougher on those who mislead immigrants by providing fake services.

Foster was joined by Carlos Jimenez Macias, the consulate general of Mexico in Chicago; Emily Gray, World Relief executive director; and Gonzalo Arroyo, Family Focus executive director, to discuss notary fraud at World Relief in downtown Aurora recently.

A key part of deterring so-called “notario” fraud will be imposing tougher punishments on those who seek to take advantage of those seeking legal status, Foster said. In August, Foster introduced the Protecting Immigrants from Legal Exploitation Act, which aims to shield immigrants from fraudulent and unethical legal representation.

The act outlines specific penalties for “notarios” who intentionally mislead immigrants by providing fraudulent services. If passed, the bill would also provide immigrants with the opportunity to resubmit applications that were completed by fake attorneys. Under the proposed act, schemes to defraud immigrants could result in up to 10 years in prison for the offender, Foster said.

This type of fraud is prevalent in the United States because of cultural differences, the officials at the Aurora event said. In many Latin American countries, the words “notario” or “notario public” refer to state-appointed lawyers, whose qualifications are equal to or may exceed those of an attorney. But in the United States, a notary public is someone who has the authority to witness and certify legal documents, but may not be an attorney.

The linguistic discrepancy can expose many immigrants to the risk of fraudulent legal services, Foster said. Since President Barack Obama announced the Deferred Action For Dreamers program, there have been “blizzards” of advertisements for notarios on Spanish-language radio channels, he said.

These ads promise legal representation and a citizenship fast track, but the incompetent notarios defraud immigrants out of hundreds or thousands of dollars. The inadequate representation sometimes leads to deportation, Foster said.

“The prominence of this practice is shocking,” Foster said. “Some studies have shown one in four Mexican-American households and half of all asylum seekers have been taken advantage of by a notario.”

Jimenez Macias said the Protecting Immigrants from Legal Exploitation Act will protect the entire immigrant community.

“On behalf of the Mexican community living in the jurisdiction of the Consulate General of Mexico in Chicago, I wanted to express our appreciation, solidarity and support to Congressman Bill Foster for introducing the (act),” he said.

Foster also said that Congress needs to address the root that causes these types of frauds by passing comprehensive immigration reform. Approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants are currently living in the United States, according to Foster’s office.

Immigration reform has a chance to pass by the end of the year, he said.

“That would be the best possible Christmas present you can imagine for millions of Americans,” Foster said.

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