By Nina Shapiro
Attorney General Rob McKenna is trying to push bills through the legislature that promise to crack down on so-called “notarios”–quasi-professionals who advertise themselves as immigration “assistants” but who often attempt to practice law without a license. The bills would seem to come just in time. Guess which former lawyer, disbarred after decades of complaints, now appears to be practicing as a notario?
If you guessed Antonio Salazar, pictured above and subject of a SW cover story last April 21, you’re right.
In April, just days before a judge disbarred Salazar, a company called “Ayuda Immigration, Inc.” opened in the very same office the disgraced attorney had long occupied on Lake City Way. (Ayuda means “help” in Spanish.) Salazar’s son, Nicolas, is listed as the agent of the firm in its registration with the Secretary of State’s office, but a source says it’s the elder Salazar who’s running the show.
A recent ad for the firm in a Spanish-language publication (seen at left) certainly has the hallmarks of a Salazar production. Next to promises of help with “todo tipo de aplicacion” (any type of application) and “peticiones familiars” (family petitions) is a picture of two comely young women, one in a very short skirt. For many of the years Salazar practiced law, he also ran a side business putting out risqué calendars of “Seattle Latinas.”
According to Manny Rios, a well-known immigration attorney in Seattle, other disbarred attorneys are also acting as notarios, as well as people who have had no legal training at all.
Rios thus considers bills like the ones before the legislature necessary. He says, however: “At the end of the day, it has to do with enforcement.” HB 1146 and SB 5023 allow for civil penalties of up to $1,000–an amount that Rios contends is “not going to stop these people. They’ll close up shop, change the name, and open up again.”
“I would have liked to see some kind of criminal sanctions,” Rios adds.
Still, he acknowledges that some notarios are well-respected figures in the Latino community who offer their services at more affordable prices than attorneys. He also concedes that notarios aren’t the only ones responsible for the substandard practice of immigration law. As Salazar well demonstrates, when it comes to this Byzantine and undersupervised field, even someone with a law license could end up getting their clients deported.