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Arizona bill aims to protect undocumented immigrants from notary publics

(Flickr/hi-lo)

PHOENIX — A bill aimed at protecting undocumented immigrants from notary publics who falsely claim they’re authorized to provide legal services is making its way through the Arizona State legislature.

Under current state law, notary publics are authorized to witness the signing of documents and to verify the identities of signers. But they cannot provide legal services.

Senate Bill 1421 would increase the penalties for those who do.

Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix, said he introduced the bill because he’s tired of seeing undocumented immigrants getting scammed by notary publics, or notarios, as they’re known among the Latino community.

He said he has heard from a number of immigrants who say notary publics promised to help them gain immigration relief in exchange for thousands of dollars. But often what ended up happening was that applications got filed incorrectly, deadlines were missed, or false claims were filed with the government.

“As a result, those immigration cases ended up being so damaged that they couldn’t be fixed,” he said. “Some of them even faced deportation as a result of that, so it really has a major impact on their lives.”

Currently, a notary public who practices law can be charged with a Class 6 felony. Quezada’s bill would add a $1,000 fine and revoke a notary public’s license if caught providing legal services.

This isn’t the first time Quezada introduced a bill to go after notary publics. Last year, he introduced a similar bill that would’ve increased the penalty from a Class 6 felony to a Class 4 felony for notary publics who provide legal services.

Last year’s bill received opposition from immigration advocates. They worried it would criminalize volunteers who, under the supervision of attorneys, help immigrants apply for legal residency, citizenship or other forms of immigration relief at community events.

Quezada said his current bill makes it clear that it’s meant to go after “bad actors, and not community organizations that are doing good work.”

Quezada also noted that in a number of Latin American countries, a notary public is a licensed attorney who can practice law. Because of that, he said, many immigrants believe that a notary public in the United States can perform the same services as an attorney.

“That’s why when they see a sign that says notario, they think that this is a trusted place they can go to, and the people that are advertising as notarios are really taking advantage of that misperception,” he said.

A Senate committee approved the bill this week with a 7-1 vote. It now heads to the Senate floor for a vote.

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