[House Report 116-533]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office]


116th Congress  }                                             {    Report
                         HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
 2d Session     }                                             {   116-533

======================================================================



 
                    FIGHT NOTARIO FRAUD ACT OF 2020

                                _______
                                

 September 24, 2020.--Committed to the Committee of the Whole House on 
            the State of the Union and ordered to be printed

                                _______
                                

    Mr. Nadler, from the Committee on the Judiciary, submitted the 
                               following

                              R E P O R T

                        [To accompany H.R. 8225]

    The Committee on the Judiciary, to whom was referred the 
bill (H.R. 8225) to amend title 18, United States Code, to 
prohibit certain types of fraud in the provision of immigration 
services, and for other purposes, having considered the same, 
reports favorably thereon without amendment and recommends that 
the bill do pass.

                                CONTENTS

                                                                   Page
Purpose and Summary..............................................     1
Background and Need for the Legislation..........................     2
Hearings.........................................................     4
Committee Consideration..........................................     4
Committee Votes..................................................     4
Committee Oversight Findings.....................................     4
New Budget Authority and Tax Expenditures and Congressional 
  Budget Office Cost Estimate....................................     4
Duplication of Federal Programs..................................     5
Performance Goals and Objectives.................................     5
Advisory on Earmarks.............................................     5
Section-by-Section Analysis......................................     5
Changes in Existing Law Made by the Bill, as Reported............     7

                          Purpose and Summary

    H.R. 8825, the ``Fight Notario Fraud Act of 2020,'' is 
designed to address notario fraud, the practice of the 
provision of unauthorized immigration legal services, which has 
not been effectively curbed by existing federal, state, and 
local efforts. The practice continues to cause irreparable harm 
to immigrant communities. Courts across the country, which 
often are the first government entities to identify instances 
of notario fraud, have recognized the widespread prevalence of 
notario fraud.\1\ The negative impact on immigrants and their 
families is clear. Furthermore, notarios delegitimize the 
immigration system. The proposed explicit criminalization of 
notario fraud is necessary to focus criminal fraud prosecution 
on widespread scams that target some of the least sophisticated 
and most vulnerable individuals in our society.
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    \1\See e.g., Mendoza-Mazariegos v. Mukasey, 509 F.3d 1074, 1077 n.4 
(9th Cir. 2007) (``[T]he immigration system in this country is plagued 
with `notarios' who prey on uneducated immigrants.'').
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    Notario grifters are able to continue to carry out their 
scams by holding the fear of deportation over the heads of 
their victims, many of whom may have legitimate immigration 
claims. H.R. 8225 contains a set of strong sanctions for 
notarios who act to prevent or dissuade their clients from 
reporting their racket. These federal penalties are 
particularly important to prevent notarios, who might otherwise 
evade civil punishment, from setting up shop elsewhere. The 
bill's proposed website and intake functions will help address 
underreporting and provide linguistically appropriate 
information to vulnerable immigrants. Reports of suspected 
notario fraud will focus DOJ prosecutions, while the publicly 
available list of notarios will serve as an important resource 
to state and local law enforcement.
    The ``Fight Notario Fraud Act of 2020'' directly addresses 
these fraudulent practices by criminalizing the provision of 
fraudulent legal services, certain misrepresentations by 
individuals who claim to be authorized to practice immigration 
law, and threats and retaliation associated with the provision 
of fraudulent legal services. Additionally, the bill would 
require the Attorney General to create no fewer than 15 Special 
United States Attorney positions to prosecute notario fraud 
crimes.

                Background and Need for the Legislation

    The roots of modern ``notario fraud'' in the United States 
stem from a practice in parts of Latin America where ``notarios 
publicos,'' (which could be literally translated to ``notaries 
public'') are lawyers and, as such, are authorized to provide 
legal services.\2\ In the United States, a notary public's 
authority is generally limited to witnessing signatures, while 
``notario publicos'' in Latin America have a law license and 
can represent others in court.\3\ Many Spanish-speaking 
immigrants in the United States turn to notaries because, in 
Latin American countries, the title of notario publico refers 
to a lawyer.\4\
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    \2\Jay M. Zitter, Nonlawyer Immigration Consultant's Fraud, Breach 
of Fiduciary Duty, Ineffectiveness, or the Like, in Provision of Advice 
or Assistance in Immigration Matters, Am. L. Rep., 21 A.L.R.7th Art. 3 
(2017).
    \3\Amer. Bar Assoc., About Notario Fraud (July 19, 2018), https://
www.americanbar.org/groups/public_interest/immigration/
projects_initiatives/fight-notario-fraud/about_notario_fraud/.
    \4\Bianca Carvajal, Combatting California's Notario Fraud, 35 
Chicana/o-Latina/o L. Rev. 1, 3 (2017).
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    Taking advantage of the literal-sounding translation of 
``notario publico,'' some grifters have used the ``notary 
public'' title to hold themselves out as authorized to provide 
immigration legal advice and services.\5\ Notario fraud schemes 
commonly use this seemingly literal translation to dupe 
potential clients into believing that the full scope of legal 
representation in immigration matters may be secured by hiring 
a notary public.\6\ On account of linguistic and cultural 
differences in meaning, notario fraud disproportionately 
targets immigrants from Latin America who are not fluent 
English speakers or familiar with the difference between the 
Latin American and American legal systems.\7\
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    \5\Catrina L. Guerrero, Divided States of America: Why the Right to 
Counsel Is Imperative for Migrant Children in Removal Proceedings, 22 
St. Mary's L. Rev. & Soc. Just. 29, 77 (2020).
    \6\Barroso v. Gonzales, 429 F.3d 1195, 1197 n.2 (9th Cir. 2005).
    \7\Edgar Flores, Legal Service Awareness of the Latino Population 
in Southern Nevada, 19 Tex. Hisp. J. L. & Pol'y 33, 35 (2013).
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i. Effect of Notario Fraud

    Notarios often gain the trust of the immigrant families 
they defraud, making extravagant promises and preying on the 
desperation of families.\8\ The effect of this breach of trust 
can be dire and far-reaching. Notarios often make mistakes in 
these filings and proceedings, which can result in irreversibly 
negative immigration consequences for their clients. A 
notario's legal errors can lead to an unfavorable review in 
immigration courts and may prejudice the immigrant-appellant on 
appeal.\9\ Fly-by-night notarios may skip town with important 
documentation immigrants need to file for immigration 
relief.\10\ Or they may apply for relief without the immigrant-
applicant's knowledge.\11\ A notario's advice to a parent may 
impact the separate and independent relief a child applicant 
may have.\12\ Notario grifters also take hard-earned money out 
of the pockets of persons desperate for assistance with their 
immigration cases, sometimes amounting to thousands of 
dollars.\13\ The impact of notario fraud can also have a 
fundamentally destabilizing effect on immigrant children. One 
family that fell victim to a notario grifter witnessed one of 
their children have a dramatic drop in school achievement over 
the course of the ten-year scam to which they were 
subjected.\14\ Currently, equitable relief for this malfeasance 
is not available in the immigration proceedings and, even 
worse, defrauded immigrants can be charged with filing false 
claims.\15\
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    \8\John Roemer, Legal Consultants Prey on California Immigrants 
Across State, CAL. BAR JOURNAL, http://www.calbarjournal.com/
November2016/TopHeadlines/TH1.aspx (last visited Aug. 28, 2020).
    \9\Barroso v. Gonzales, 429 F.3d 1195, 1208 (9th Cir. 2005) 
(reviewing a case where notario failed to appear at a proceeding).
    \10\See e.g., Nunez v. Gonzales, 231 F. App'x 666, 667 (9th Cir. 
2007) (examining a circumstance where a notario took an immigrant 
applicant's visa).
    \11\See id. at 668.
    \12\C.J.L.G. v. Barr, 923 F.3d 622, 637 (9th Cir. 2019).
    \13\See Steph Solis, Statewide Sweep Nets 28 New Jersey Businesses 
Accused of Defrauding Immigrants, North Jersey (Nov. 9. 2018), https://
www.northjersey.com/story/news/new-jersey/2018/11/09/nj-notario-fraud-
ag-cites-28-businesses/1941891002/.
    \14\Mary Dolores Guerra, Lost in Translation: Notario Fraud-
Immigration Fraud, 26J. CIVIL RIGHTS & ECON. DEVELOPMENTS 34 (2011).
    \15\Amer. Bar Assoc, About Notario Fraud (July 19, 2018), https://
www.americanbar.org/groups/public_interest/immigration/
projects_initiatives/fight-notario-fraud/about_notario_fraud/.
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ii. Reporting and Retaliation

    Immigrants have been defrauded of hundreds or even 
thousands of dollars by unscrupulous notarios only to find out 
they will not receive the services they were promised and, in 
some cases, these individuals find themselves in worse 
conditions than when they originally sought help with their 
immigration matters. After they discover that they have been 
bilked, many immigrants are afraid to report notarios.\16\ By 
some estimates, only one in every hundred cases is 
reported.\17\ In one civil action initiated by the Federal 
Trade Commission in 2011, investigators recovered evidence of 
2,785 defrauded immigrants, but only 99 consumer complaints 
associated with the notario grifter--a reporting rate of 3.55 
percent.\18\ Because many of the victims of notarios also do 
not have legal immigration status, they fear negative 
immigration outcomes if they even attempt to bring a 
complaint.\19\
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    \16\Id. at 28.
    \17\Lorelei Laird, Underreporting Makes Notario Fraud Difficult to 
Fight, ABA J. (May 1, 2018), https://www.abajournal.com/magazine/
article/underreporting_notario_fraud.
    \18\Id.
    \19\Guerra, 26 J. CIVIL RIGHTS & ECON. DEVELOPMENTS at 28.
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                                Hearings

    The Committee has not addressed notario fraud in a hearing 
or taken up this or previous versions of this legislation 
previously.

                        Committee Consideration

    On September 15, 2020, the Committee met in open session 
and ordered the bill, H.R. 8225, favorably reported by a voice 
vote, without amendment.

                            Committee Votes

    No record votes occurred during the Committee's 
consideration of H.R. 8225.

                      Committee Oversight Findings

    In compliance with clause 3(c)(1) of rule XIII of the Rules 
of the House of Representatives, the Committee advises that the 
findings and recommendations of the Committee, based on 
oversight activities under clause 2(b)(1) of rule X of the 
Rules of the House of Representatives, are incorporated in the 
descriptive portions of this report. Additionally, in reviewing 
H.R. 8225, the Committee found that the Department of Justice's 
current efforts to curb notario fraud were deficient. Despite 
limited initiatives in the past decade to target notario fraud, 
the Fraud Section of the Criminal Division of the Department 
Justice has failed to dedicate any meaningful resources to 
combat notario fraud or hired attorneys with the language 
skills to communicate with victims of notario fraud. The 
Committee concurred with the bill's sponsor that the Immigrant 
and Employee Rights Section of the Civil Rights Division of the 
Department of Justice is better suited to prosecute these cases 
given the cadre of Spanish-speaking attorneys it has on its 
staff and the robust intake system it already has in place.

  New Budget Authority and Tax Expenditures and Congressional Budget 
                          Office Cost Estimate

    With respect to the requirements of clause 3(c)(2) of rule 
XIII of the Rules of the House of Representatives and section 
308(a) of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 and with respect 
to requirements of clause (3)(c)(3) of rule XIII of the Rules 
of the House of Representatives and section 402 of the 
Congressional Budget Act of 1974, the Committee has requested 
but not received a cost estimate for this bill from the 
Director of Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The Committee 
has requested but not received from the Director of the CBO a 
statement as to whether this bill contains any new budget 
authority, spending authority, credit authority, or an increase 
or decrease in revenues or tax expenditures.

                    Duplication of Federal Programs

    No provision of H.R. 8225 establishes or reauthorizes a 
program of the Federal government known to be duplicative of 
another federal program, a program that was included in any 
report from the Government Accountability Office to Congress 
pursuant to section 21 of Public Law 111-139, or a program 
related to a program identified in the most recent Catalog of 
Federal Domestic Assistance.

                    Performance Goals and Objectives

    The Committee states that pursuant to clause 3(c)(4) of 
rule XIII of the Rules of the House of Representatives, H.R. 
8225 would enhance the Federal government's ability to 
prosecute notario fraud and promote the reporting of notario 
fraud schemes. Additionally, the creation of an online database 
of individuals convicted of notario fraud would provide the 
public with information on how to avoid notario fraud scams.

                          Advisory on Earmarks

    In accordance with clause 9 of rule XXI of the Rules of the 
House of Representatives, H.R. 8225 does not contain any 
congressional earmarks, limited tax benefits, or limited tariff 
benefits as defined in clause 9(d), 9(e), or 9(f) of rule XXI.

                      Section-by-Section Analysis

    The following discussion describes the bill as reported by 
the Committee.
    Sec. 1. Short Title. This section establishes the bill's 
short title as the ``Fight Notario Fraud Act of 2020.''
    Sec. 2. Fraud Prohibited. To make unlawful notario fraud 
schemes, this section adds three distinct acts that impose 
criminal liability.
    (a) Fraud. This subsection makes illegal the act of 
knowingly executing a scheme, in connection with any matter 
authorized by or arising under the immigration laws or by a 
person who claims that they are authorized under immigration 
law to act, that defrauds another person or obtains anything of 
value by false pretenses, representations, or promises. The 
possible penalty for violating this section is imprisonment for 
up to a one year; the imposition of a fine; or both.
    (b) Misrepresentation. This subsection makes unlawful a 
false representation that someone is an attorney or an 
accredited representative under federal immigration law in any 
matter arising under immigration law. The possible penalty for 
violating this section is imprisonment for up to one year; the 
imposition of a fine; or both.
    (c) Threats and Retaliation. This subsection criminalizes 
the communication of threats and prohibits retaliation in 
connection with notario fraud schemes. In order to be culpable 
under this section, a person must perpetrate a notario fraud 
scheme under the Frauds subsection--(a) above--and contravene 
one of the threats and retaliation prohibitions detailed in 
this subsection.
    In connection with a notario fraud scheme, this subsection 
makes unlawful the act of threatening to report another person 
to Federal authorities or State law enforcement authorities 
working in conjunction with or pursuant to Federal authority.
    This subsection also imposes a criminal penalty if, in 
connection with a notario fraud scheme, someone acts to 
adversely affect another person's immigration status, perceived 
immigration status, or attempts to secure immigration status 
for a person that either (1) impacts or results in the removal 
of the person from the United States; (2) leads to the loss of 
immigration status; or (3) causes the person seeking to apply 
for an immigration benefit to lose an opportunity to apply for 
such an immigration benefit that would have provided 
immigration status and for which a person was, on its face, 
eligible.
    This subsection also criminalizes, in connection with a 
notario fraud scheme, the demand or retention of money or 
anything else of value for services fraudulently performed; 
services not performed; services withheld; or threats to 
withhold services to be performed.
    The possible penalty for violating this subsection is 
imprisonment for up to one year; the imposition of a fine; or 
both.
    (d) Gravity of Offense. This subsection establishes 
criminal penalties for large-scale or particularly harmful 
notario fraud schemes. Any person who is found culpable for 
notario fraud under either Fraud, Misrepresentation, or Threats 
and Retaliation crimes and causes the cumulative loss to all 
victims that exceeds $10,000 may be imprisoned not more than 
three years; fined under this title; or both.
    Any person who commits a notario fraud scheme by violating 
the Frauds or Misrepresentation crime and (1) impacts or 
results in the removal of the person from the United States; 
(2) leads to the loss of immigration status; or (3) causes the 
person seeking to apply for an immigration benefit to lose an 
opportunity to apply for such an immigration benefit that would 
have provided immigration status and for which a person was, on 
its face, eligible, may be imprisoned for not more than three 
years; fined under this title; or both.
    (e) Information sharing and Enforcement. Pursuant to this 
subsection, the Immigrant and Employee Rights Section of the 
Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice shall have 
primary enforcement responsibility for this section and shall 
be consulted prior to a United States Attorney initiating an 
action under this section.
    This subsection also requires the Immigrant and Employee 
Rights Section to establish procedures to receive and 
investigate complaints of fraudulent immigration schemes from 
the public; publish information on the Internet aimed at 
protecting consumers from notario fraud; and maintain on the 
Internet a list of individuals who have been convicted of 
unlawful conduct under this Act or have been found by a State 
or Federal agency to have unlawfully provided immigration 
services.
    In this subsection, the Act instructs the Attorney General 
to establish no fewer than 15 Special United States Attorney 
positions in districts the Attorney General determines, after 
analyzing data following each decennial census, to be most 
affected by fraud described this Act.
    Additionally, this subsection requires that, where the 
victim of an offense prosecuted under this Act cannot be 
located, any restitution ordered must be deposited in the Crime 
Victims Fund.
    (f) Severability. The bill also contains a severability 
clause that would preserve the remaining provisions if any 
other element or elements of the legislation were to be 
overturned in court.
    (g) Immigration Laws. This section provides that the term 
``immigration laws'' has the meaning given that term in the 
Immigration and Nationality Act.

         Changes in Existing Law Made by the Bill, as Reported

  In compliance with clause 3(e) of rule XIII of the Rules of 
the House of Representatives, changes in existing law made by 
the bill, as reported, are shown as follows (new matter is 
printed in italics and existing law in which no change is 
proposed is shown in roman):

                      TITLE 18, UNITED STATES CODE



           *       *       *       *       *       *       *
PART I--CRIMES

           *       *       *       *       *       *       *


CHAPTER 47--FRAUD AND FALSE STATEMENTS

           *       *       *       *       *       *       *


Sec.
     * * * * * * *
1040. Fraud in connection with major disaster or emergency benefits.
1041. Schemes to defraud persons in any matter arising under immigration 
          laws.

           *       *       *       *       *       *       *


Sec. 1041. Schemes to defraud persons in any matter arising under 
                    immigration laws

  (a) Fraud.--Any person who knowingly executes a scheme or 
artifice, in connection with any matter authorized by or 
arising under the immigration laws, or any matter that such 
person claims or represents is authorized by or arises under 
the immigration laws to--
          (1) defraud any other person; or
          (2) obtain or receive money or anything else of value 
        from any other person by means of false or fraudulent 
        pretenses, representations, or promises,
shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 1 
year, or both.
  (b) Misrepresentation.--Any person who knowingly makes a 
false representation that such person is an attorney or an 
accredited representative (as such term is defined under 
section 1292.1(a)(4) of title 8, Code of Federal Regulations 
(or any successor regulation)) in any matter arising under the 
immigration laws shall be fined under this title, imprisoned 
not more than 1 year, or both.
  (c) Threats and Retaliation.--Any person who violates 
subsection (a) and knowingly--
          (1) threatens to report another person to Federal 
        authorities or State law enforcement authorities 
        working in conjunction with or pursuant to Federal 
        authority;
          (2) acts to adversely affect another person's 
        immigration status, perceived immigration status, or 
        attempts to secure immigration status that--
                  (A) impacts or results in the removal of the 
                person from the United States;
                  (B) leads to the loss of immigration status; 
                or
                  (C) causes the person seeking to apply for an 
                immigration benefit to lose an opportunity to 
                apply for such an immigration benefit that 
                would have provided immigration status and for 
                which a person was prima facie eligible; or
          (3) demands or retains money or anything else of 
        value for services fraudulently performed or not 
        performed or withholds or threatens to withhold 
        services promised to be performed,
shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 1 
year, or both.
  (d) Gravity of Offense.--
          (1) Cumulative loss.--Any person who violates 
        subsection (a), (b), or (c) such that the cumulative 
        loss to all victims exceeds $10,000 may be imprisoned 
        not more than 3 years, fined under this title, or both.
          (2) Retaliation.--Any person who violates subsection 
        (a) or (b) and causes the harm described in subsection 
        (c)(2) may be imprisoned not more than 3 years, fined 
        under this title, or both.
  (e) Information Sharing and Enforcement.--
          (1) In general.--The Immigrant and Employee Rights 
        Section of the Civil Rights Division of the Department 
        of Justice--
                  (A) shall have primary enforcement 
                responsibility for this section and shall be 
                consulted prior to a United States Attorney 
                initiating an action under this section;
                  (B) shall establish procedures to receive and 
                investigate complaints of fraudulent 
                immigration schemes from the public that are 
                consistent with the procedures for receiving 
                and investigating complaints of unfair 
                immigration-related employment practices; and
                  (C) shall maintain and publish on the 
                internet, information aimed at protecting 
                consumers from fraudulent immigration schemes, 
                as well as a list of individuals who have been 
                convicted of unlawful conduct under this 
                section or have been found by a State or 
                Federal agency to have unlawfully provided 
                immigration services.
          (2) Special united states attorneys.--The Attorney 
        General shall establish no fewer than 15 Special United 
        States Attorney positions in districts the Attorney 
        General determines, after analyzing data following each 
        decennial census, to be most affected by the fraud 
        described in subsections (a), (b), and (c).
          (3) Restitution.--There shall be deposited in the 
        Crime Victims Fund established under section 1402 of 
        the Victims of Crime Act of 1984 (34 U.S.C. 20101) any 
        restitution ordered for an offense under this section 
        if the victim of such offense cannot reasonably be 
        located.
  (f) Severability.--If any provision of this section, or the 
application of such a provision to any person or circumstance, 
is held to be unconstitutional, the remainder of this section 
and the application of the remaining provisions of this section 
to any person or circumstance shall not be affected thereby.
  (g) Immigration Laws.--In this section, the term 
``immigration laws'' has the meaning given that term in section 
101(a)(17) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 
1101(a)(17)).

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