What’s the difference between a notary and “notarios?” For many immigrants, it’s the difference between staying in the United States and getting deported back to the country they left.
Recently, there has been an influx of people in the US taking advantage of a small mistranslation. In the US, a notary is someone who is licensed by the state to perform acts in legal affairs. This usually includes witnessing the signature of documents or the swearing of oaths and affidavits.
In Central America, “notarios” is a term for a legal official. Immigrants, not realizing the similarities in the words, will go to a notary in their city assuming the notary has the legal authority to help them with their papers. Since Notarios do actually have some power and quasi-legal background, immigrants seeking help mistakenly assume they are the same thing.
While most notaries will inform immigrants of their mistake and send them on the correct path, a select number of unscrupulous notaries did exactly the opposite.
Taking advantage of the mistranslation, these fake notaries will tell their immigrant “clients” that they do in fact have the power to process important paperwork and even speed up the process. They do not. Unfortunately, the victims wind up paying hundreds if not thousands of dollars and often find themselves headed back to the country where they originated.
Luckily, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has started to crack down on the practice. They’re going after offenders in Texas, Georgia, and New York now, and plan to crackdown nationwide.
To make matters worse, immigrants are often reluctant to admit they were defrauded by one of these “notarios.” Many are simply too ashamed to come forward, while others risk getting arrested and deported. Sadly, this is all just a continuation of the well-documented trend that immigrants underreport crime for fear of legal trouble, deportation or getting friends or witnesses without legal documents in trouble.
The tricky case of notaries vs. notarios demonstrates just how important it is to get the best translation available. If a goof on one word can mean the difference between getting approved for citizenship and losing your home and livelihood, what can mistaking a whole sentence or paragraph do?