A Tacoma-area man will have to pay more than $50,000, after a lawsuit from a family who said his fraudulent legal advice caused their immigration application to be denied.
It’s believed to be one of the first private lawsuits of its kind in the state to succeed.
The family paid Ismael Delgado, who advertised himself as a “notario publico” on his business card, to fill out legal forms he shouldn’t have in their immigration case, according to the lawsuit.
In the end, that jeopardized their bid to live in the United States legally, they argued.
No reasonable attorney would have told the family to file the application that Delgado had them submit, said Greg McLawsen, one of the family’s lawyers.
Deglado’s lawyer, Brian Hallaq, said via email Friday: “We have no public comment to make on Mr. Delgado’s case.”
In Latin America, “notarios publicos” are licensed attorneys. In the United States, the term refers to notaries public, and some who advertise themselves as “notarios” offer immigration consultation illegally.
“That’s how they make their money,” McLawsen said. “When people are freaked out about immigration issues, they go to these notarios and get terrible advice that makes their situation worse.”
In some cases, that can lead to deportation proceedings, he said.
After using Delgado’s service for their immigration case — paying him plus $1,500 in filing fees — the family became concerned about their case.
They reached out to an immigration lawyer, who warned them of their situation, according to the lawsuit.
The family sued Delgado in Pierce County Superior Court, and the case moved to federal court after he sought bankruptcy protection, attorneys said.
There, a federal judge ruled Feb. 27 that Delgado owed them more than $50,000 in damages and attorney fees.
The family who sued requested that their names not be publicized, because they’re worried about retaliation, McLawsen said.
“These are just such aggressive times in terms of immigration enforcement,” he said.
McLawsen said he thinks there has been one other successful private lawsuit against a notario in Washington. A Lakewood business settled with a Midland man in 2015, after unauthorized consulting jeopardized his immigration case.
Sometimes, but not always, notarios charge less than attorneys. But McLawsen cautioned that such unqualified immigration advice can end in deportation proceedings.
As for the family who filed the suit, he said: “They do have a pathway toward legal status, and they’re in the process of pursuing that.”