Spanish-speaking customers frequently came to Concepto Latino in Durham for notary public services. Then Washington politics had an indirect hand in elevating the volume.
“I know that when President Trump started initiating his immigration actions a lot of people were bringing in letters to notarize,” showing they were in the country legally, said Joshua Toth. He is a former Marine, and a co-owner of Concepto Latino, whose products include tax preparation, and insurance services.
While the small business caters to the Latino community, Toth said his clients include Americans, Asians, and Africans. They’re all looking for similar services, mostly getting car titles notarized, particularly in the spring and summer.
But for immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, notary services are vital for a wide variety of legal documents.
“I know one immigrant that required a lot of notarized affidavits because they were filing for asylum,” Toth said. Asylum seekers write out their petition in Spanish. Toth translates the document into English, then fills out a certificate of translation for one of his notaries to sign, and seal.
North Carolina’s notary public system, a vibrant but generally unheralded industry, was thrust into the news recently. State Rep. Chris Millis, R-Pender, accused Secretary of State Elaine Marshall of improperly and furtively conferring notary public commissions on more than 300 noncitizens. He claims that is an improper public benefit, potentially meriting impeachment.
Marshall denies any wrongdoing, called Millis’ efforts a political attack, and said federal and state guidelines allow noncitizens in certain cases to become notaries public. The House Rules Committee passed House Resolution 925 along partisan lines to create a select committee to investigate the allegations. If wrongdoing is determined, the matter would be sent to the Senate for action.
Millis has said an outside investigation is being conducted as he continues to work on the resolution heading into an Aug. 3 session of the General Assembly. House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, sent the resolution back to the Rules Committee.
Amid that fray, Toth and others cited a need for more bilingual notaries public. Most Latinos live in urban areas and have services available. Rural residents must drive to cities to obtain services.
Aside from car titles and legal documents, Toth said immigrants might need to have a statement notarized authorizing a child to return to a native country for visits if departing unaccompanied, or accompanied by only one parent.
Getting utilities turned on for the first time is another reason a notary is needed. If the person has no credit history or valid identification, a credible witness can appear to attest to the person’s identity. That can be notarized as a form of ID for utility use.
Notary business is often word of mouth. Toth said banks, leasing offices in apartment complexes, insurance companies, and multi-service businesses such as his often have a notary public on staff. While notary work is a regular part of his business, he said he doesn’t promote it in his commercial advertisements because a $5 notary fee is not a profit driver.
What might seem to be likely venues are not always places where Latinos find a notary. The Mexican consulate in Raleigh, for example, does not have a U.S. notary available to the public. Neither does Raleigh-based El Pueblo, a social justice and advocacy organization deeply involved in the Latino community.
George Jeter, spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office, said the agency maintains a volunteer registry of bilingual notaries public on its website, but acknowledges it isn’t comprehensive.
There are about 144,000 commissioned notaries public in North Carolina. The Secretary of State’s website shows 50 languages other than English included on the voluntary registry by counties of service.
A random check of bilingual or multilingual notaries shows there were 578 for Spanish; 45 French; 27 German; 23 Russian; 18 Arabic; 10 Korean; four Mandarin; four Persian; two Cantonese; and two Thai.
Jeter said he knows of no “holistic program” identifying all notaries fluent in other languages. “It’s more of a community patchwork, I would guess,” for noncitizens to determine how and where to find a notary.