Notaries, Notarios Publicos, and Immigration

Notaries exist in nearly every country on the planet, but the role of notaries in the United States is far more limited than that of their international counterparts. In other countries, notaries are usually lawyers or other professionals who have been specifically trained in the drafting of documents. Latin American populations rely heavily on notarios publicos, also called abogados-notarios (lawyer-notaries), for the drafting of their everyday documents. American notaries, on the other hand, are generally prohibited from drafting documents, with a few exceptions. (Louisiana and Puerto Rico, for example, are civil law jurisdictions where notaries have greater authority.)

Notaries in states with large Spanish-speaking populations may find themselves being asked to assist in the completion or filing of immigration documents. While notaries can, for the most part, notarize any document - and aren’t concerned with the contents - they cannot help someone fill out a form. In addition, most immigration forms do not require an actual notarization. Some forms allow notarization by a federal official only. One common immigration form that does require a notarization is the Freedom of Information/Privacy Act Request (Form G-639), which uses a jurat. (Remember, however, that every notarial certificate must comply with the laws of your state, even if it is a federal form.)

When dealing with Spanish speakers, notaries should be aware of a few things. First, notaries public are typically prohibited from advertising their services using the words “notario publico” because of the confusion this terminology can cause to immigrants from Latin American countries. In fact, state laws in many states - including California, Texas, Arizona, Florida, New Mexico, and New York - specifically prohibit translation of the term “notary public.”

In addition, it can be considered the unauthorized practice of law to assist in the completion or filing of immigration forms. Constituents who come to you seeking assistance with such forms beyond a standard notarization should be referred to someone legally authorized to offer that service. Although notaries are generally permitted to sell blank legal forms, some states prohibit non-lawyers from providing immigration forms. 

Immigration is a complicated topic that involves state and federal laws. Consult your own state laws and commissioning authority for the most accurate information for your state. You might also consider contacting your state bar association for information on unauthorized practice of law. 

By Evelin Garcia, a Contributing Writer with the American Association of Notaries, Inc.

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