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Venezuelan asylum seekers should be especially wary of advice from “notaries” or Venezuelan trained lawyers.

By Frank Symphorien-Saavedra, (Venezuelan Native and Board Certified Immigration Expert )

In the midst of one of the largest humanitarian crisis the world has ever seen, Venezuelan immigrants have flocked to the United States in droves. In their desperation to find help, many are turning to a growing group of “notarios” or Venezuelan trained lawyers who are equally desperate to find work and are seizing upon the desperation of immigrants seeking legal help. In a world where immigration officers are increasingly under pressure to ferret out asylum fraud, many are aware of the lengths that notarios are willing to go—creating stories and fabricating evidence. In such an environment, the odds are that many asylum applicants using the wrong help will be discovered and this will have permanent adverse consequences on their possibility of gaining asylum. 

Attorneys oftentimes hear stories of notaries who have ignored a client’s legitimate claim for asylum and instead utilized boiler plate statements that they claim have been successful in the past. Many of these asylum seekers could have won asylum if they recounted their real life stories but when they sign a statement that a notario has prepared in English and don’t understand what it says, they will typically be held to account for whatever statement they have signed. If the statement contains false information, individuals can be permanently barred from seeking asylum and any other relief from deportation if an immigration judge makes a “frivolous finding.” 

It is important to remember that for non-lawyers it is generally illegal to provide legal advice. Notarios have been around for years and they have avoided the authorities by hiding under the guise that they are completing forms and helping people who cannot afford attorneys. They also benefit from the limited resources that law enforcement entities have to prosecute or ferret out fraud particularly in various languages that are not English. 

Some Venezuelan trained lawyers can be found marketing themselves as experts on U.S. immigration laws through YouTube and on various social media pages. They often benefit from their eloquence in speaking Spanish, knowledge of social media platforms, and large groups of clients that they have assisted in Venezuela. The problem is these Venezuelan lawyers often lack a basic understanding of U.S. asylum laws—which can be quite complex—and they typically speak little English. In some cases, they have also become accustomed to questionable ethical practices that have facilitated the demise of the Venezuelan government. When coupled with a deep desperation in finding professional work in the United States, cleaning homes or working as Uber drivers instead, the situation can lead to a willingness to do, say or guarantee anything to make money. Similarly, many notarios are often former paralegals or immigration officers who did not cut it or became fed up with working for lawyers or the federal 

government. They also have an extremely limited knowledge of U.S. immigration laws and little to lose if they are caught in a fraudulent scheme. 

It’s understandable that immigrants often lack the resources to hire an expert immigration lawyer, but you would be surprised at the cost of many attorneys who only charge little above what some notarios charge. It’s important to remember the old adage that you generally get what you pay for. In any case, it is important to research thoroughly the credentials of anyone who is assisting you with delicate legal matters and closely consider what qualifies that person to provide you with legal advice. A few important considerations should be: 

1. If the person is not a lawyer, are they providing you legal advice and why are they risking legal action against them? 

2. Is the person a lawyer? Check the floridabar.org. 

3. Is the person a member of the Immigration Lawyers Association? Check AILA.org. 

4. Is the person board certificate as an expert in immigration law? https://www.floridabar.org/about/cert/find-a-lawyer/ 

Over the next few weeks, I will expand upon this article by explaining the requirements of U.S. asylum laws and the common pitfalls that befall most applicants who use a notario or a Venezuelan trained lawyer. 

If you have need assistance in filing for asylum, we encourage you to contact our office at 407-487-4558 and schedule a consultation with our Board Certified Expert, Francisco F. Symphorien-Saavedra.