The Florida Bar sent out a warning this week: Don’t get a nonlawyer, especially a notary, to do an immigration lawyer’s job.
Notary publics or notarios got called out pointedly:
“In [Hispanic immigrants’] home countries, notaries often play a much larger role,” the warning reads. “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.
“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.”
That’s what Kendall resident Leonardo Morales’ family claims happened to him.
As detailed in a Nov. 14 Miami Herald story, Morales faces deportation after living 11 years in the United States. Morales, his wife and two children, now teenagers, came from Colombia on a tourist visa, then applied for asylum to escape the violence they felt too prevalent in their native country.
Morales’ wife says the problem starts with Fredy Barragan, who has run a business in Hialeah since 2001 helping fill out immigration forms. Barragan told the Herald he never claimed to be an attorney and all paperwork he gives clients says he’s not an attorney. The Manta.com website for his business declares that prominently.
While statements regarding deportation by President-elect Donald Trump would seem the logical spur for such a warning, Florida Bar public information coordinator Mark Hohmeister said the Bar issued a similar warning in 2014 after President Barack Obama’s executive order on immigration. Any change or imminent change in immigration law mushrooms the number of people seeking legal advice, as a Tampa Bay Times article from last week demonstrates.
“We were planning to put this out after the holidays,” Hohmeister said. “When the Times came out with their story, we thought it was a good time to hit it.”