KLTV 7 Investigates: Notaries providing illegal immigration services in East Texas

Updated: Feb. 19, 2015 at 8:38 PM CST
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Christina says she trusted Cano knew what to do. (Source: KLTV Staff)
Christina says she trusted Cano knew what to do. (Source: KLTV Staff)
Immigration attorney Jose Sanchez says many of his clients have faced that same situation with...
Immigration attorney Jose Sanchez says many of his clients have faced that same situation with other notaries in East Texas. (Source: KLTV Staff)

EAST TEXAS (KLTV) - A federal district court decision this week has thrown the U.S. immigration system into uncertainty. Last year, President Obama's executive action on immigration began paving the way for millions of illegal immigrants to obtain work permits to stay in the U.S., but the Texas-based federal judge's ruling is forcing the president to halt those plans. As a legal battle ensues, confusion about immigration policies is helping scam artists target immigrant families.

“It's a despair that I wouldn't wish on anyone," says immigrant Christina Vega.

Vega, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, says she came to Texas with her daughter in search of a better life, desperate to gain legal status.

“We didn't know of an attorney. We didn't know anything,” she says.

Christina says she went to Cano's Tax Service in Mount Pleasant to have some documents translated from English to Spanish, but while there, she says owner Pedro Cano told her that he provided immigration services and could file paperwork for her.

“We went with him and it looks like he didn't help us. Instead, he ruined our lives,” she says.

Immigration attorney Jose Sanchez says many of his clients have faced that same situation with other notaries in East Texas.

“A notary in very many Central and South American countries, specifically Mexico, is an attorney... So, when people come here and see the word notary, they assume that person is an attorney and a very specialized attorney. A lot of these notaries know that, and use it to their advantage to try to get these people into their offices,” he says.

Christina says she trusted Cano knew what to do. “Immigration services” was even listed on his business card. But when she received a letter, thinking it was her permanent resident card, she says her world began to turn upside down.

“When these letters arrived, we immediately went to the notary. We asked him what they were, if they were our papers or what. He got nervous, looked at them over and over and told us he didn't know why they had sent these immigration letters because he had done everything correctly,” she says.

The letters were from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, advising Christina she had submitted her application too early and that immigration had been notified she was in Texas.

“I didn't sleep, nor eat. I was worried about my children,” she says.

Sanchez says that type of service constitutes practicing law without a license and fraud… costing immigrants like Christina thousands of dollars.

“[All that money] was thrown in the trash. Immigration doesn't give you that money back,” she says.

Sanchez says he filed suit on behalf of Christina against Cano's Tax Service, but says she may never see that money again.

“It's very tough because a lot of times you can't collect. A lot of times you can't find them. They take off from one neighborhood or one city to another city,” he says.

But Cano is still in business and after several unanswered calls, KLTV went to his office in Mount Pleasant. Staff said they've never had a client named Christina Vega and Pedro Cano refused to come out.

“We don't have anything to say about that,” said a staff member.

Christina says although the process has been a nightmare, she still wants more than anything to be here legally.

“I need to return to Mexico to see my family, my parents. Because of this person, I've suffered a lot and paid a lot of money,” she says.

Christina was reluctant at first to speak on-camera, but she says she wanted to speak out to warn others in her community about the dangers of using a notary for legal services. Immigration experts say anyone seeking legal advice should make sure attorneys are licensed and advisers are recognized by the justice department's board of immigration appeals.

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