STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO
Undocumented people living in the United States and wanting to start the process of becoming citizens often turn to notarios publicos. In Latin America, notarios publicos are trained legal professionals, similar to attorneys.
In the United States, however, people posing as notarios publicos are often less than ethical.
“(Notarios publicos) might be very knowledgeable in the law but are engaged in unauthorized practices,” said Justin Estep, director of Immigration Legal Services for Catholic Charities of Central Texas.
Then, these people disappear, leaving the person seeking citizenship in a more difficult situation, Estep said.
Catholic Charities of Central Texas created Immigration Legal Services to help people obtain citizenship without dealing with questionable notarios publicos. The organization, which covers 25 counties in Central Texas and focuses on immigration and legal services, opened an office in the T.Q. Brown Community Resource Center, 1016 Broadway in Marble Falls.
A bilingual service, Immigration Legal Services provided more than 1,700 consultations and its services were retained by about 900 people during its last fiscal year.
Estep said the organization will represent “anyone with any type of immigration (issue) except employment-based.”
That includes family, marriage, naturalization, tourist visas, and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
It does not offer defense in the instance of removal from the country, the director added.
The cost for a one-hour consultation is $40. Fees after that are based on federal poverty guidelines.
“We give a sixty- to eighty-percent discount on what an attorney in Austin would charge,” Estep said. “We charge everyone the same incredible reduced price.”
He said that many of the people who need the services aren’t living in Austin. Most have to drive at least two hours or more to see them. That means taking a day off from work and budgeting the cost of gas and food.
To make it easier for people, the organization is spending time in cities the size of Marble Falls, forming partnerships for office space such as with the T.Q. Brown Community Resource Center.
“Our overall goal over the next five years is that no one has to go more than forty-five minutes to reach our diocese (for immigration help),” Estep said.
Reaching that goal also means adding more attorneys over the next five years, he said.
First is the objective at hand: helping those who want to legally stay in the United States find a way.
“We want to encourage folks to come see us,” he said. “We’re licensed attorneys and experts in these areas. You might have an immigration pathway. Please call us.”
Email office administrator Lizbeth Ordonez at Lizbeth-Ordonez@ccctx.org. or call (512) 651-6125 to schedule an appointment or for more information.