When someone needs legal assistance, he attempts to find an attorney. Once he has decided to hire a particular attorney, he places all his trust in that lawyer. When he hires an attorney who is well qualified to handle the legal problem, the trust is well-placed. Unfortunately, sometimes, the person hired is not really an attorney. Then the client is at the mercy of someone who is not trained or qualified to assist him with his legal problem.
This situation is especially pronounced in the area of immigration law. In many countries, the term “Notary Public” or “Notario” means that the person is an attorney. That term does not have the same meaning in the United States. Notary Publics are commissioned by the state to notarize documents (i.e. to state that a document really was signed by the person whose signature is on the document). The Notary Public does not undergo the necessary legal training and is not qualified or allowed to represent anyone regarding a legal problem.
The persons hiring the notario or “a fixer” or other unscrupulous persons who prey upon the immigrant community actually believe that they are hiring an attorney. These unscrupulous persons do nothing to correct that mistaken impression. In fact, they usually encourage it. Many difficulties can result from this misrepresentation. Unfortunately, “the fixer” then becomes the representative.
Very often problems arise because the “representative” files an application for someone and gives an incorrect address for the alien. Sometimes that address is the representative’s and sometimes it is just an address that does not belong to anyone known to either the alien or the “representative”. Many times, as a result of the application filed, the alien is referred to the Immigration Court. A notice is sent to the address on the application telling the alien when and where to go to court. Not infrequently, the “representative” is no longer at that address. Even when he is, it is not unusual for the notario not to tell the alien that he has to go to court. When the alien does not go to his hearing, he is ordered deported in absentia (in his absence). It doesn’t matter that the alien didn’t get a notice of the hearing because the notice was sent to the address on the application. Many immigration judges have said that, as long as the notice was sent to the alien’s representative or to the address given by the alien, the alien is considered to have received notice.
A motion to reopen the court case must be filed within a certain amount of time. If the notice is not filed on time, the immigration judge will not reopen the case and the alien will not be able to apply to the immigration judge for relief for which he might be eligible. That means that the alien will have to leave the United States.
The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has just held, in Lopez v. INS, that, if the motion to reopen is filed late because of the actions of the notario, the time limit will not apply and the motion can be filed. The Court has also said that, because the alien was not in court and did not hear the oral notice of the consequences of failing to appear, he is able to apply for relief, such as, adjustment of status, cancellation of removal and voluntary departure, if he is otherwise eligible. This means that there may be hope for someone who has a final deportation order because his immigration case was mishandled by a notario, a “fixer” or organization pretending that they have attorneys on their staff. An alien who has been represented by an unlicensed representative should consult a licensed, knowledgeable and experienced immigration attorney to make sure that no deportation orders have been issued against him.
Anyone who was represented by a non attorney and knows that a deportation order was issued against him should seek the advice of an experienced immigration law attorney as soon as possible. You may be able to have your case reopened and the order reversed.