One of the most common questions asked by people either petitioning for a family member or that have family members in deportation/removal proceedings is: “Do I need an immigration attorney?” “Need” is a tough word to pin down.
Do you need an immigration lawyer in the sense that you are legally obligated to have an attorney? No. The more appropriate inquiry is: “Is it advisable to have an immigration attorney?” The answer to that question is a resounding “yes.”
Why is it advisable to have an attorney? First and foremost, mistakes in any immigration proceeding can be costly. Cost is not merely a monetary issue. Cost includes stress, impending separation from a loved one, and the emotional anxiety that comes with uncertainty. Let’s walk through a few examples.
If you or a loved one is in deportation/removal proceedings and you decide to represent yourself, any attorney that you hire to represent you in an appeal of that decision must work with the record that you created. The attorney handling the appeal will have to work with any mistakes that you might have made. The same is not true if you had an attorney. If your attorney makes mistakes in deportation/removal proceedings that could have changed the result of the proceedings, a Lozada motion to obtain a new trial can be pursued because you received ineffective assistance of counsel. If you are petitioning for a green card for a loved one and forget to include a document, USCIS will issue a Request for Evidence (RFE). The deadline to submit the requested documents varies, but usually it is about 87 days. If that document that you forgot to include must be issued by a government agency either in the US or abroad, you might have a difficult time meeting that deadline. If you miss the deadline, the case will be denied. You are then left with two options: 1) filing a motion to reopen, resulting in additional cost and delay in the processing of the case, or 2) starting over, which will also result in additional cost and delay. More importantly, if the case is denied and your relative is in the United States, they could be referred to removal/deportation proceedings. An immigration attorney will know the documents required and can anticipate problems that may occur with the green card application before it is ever filed with the government.
The number one impediment to people hiring an attorney is cost. It is worth noting that many immigration attorneys offer free consultations, payment plans, or sliding scale payments based upon income, including this firm. A great majority of immigration law firms will work with you understanding that it’s not just a case; this is your husband, child, sister, brother, father, or mother and the life and relationship that you have created with that relative. Furthermore, there are many non-profit immigration agencies that will offer help for free or low cost if you meet their case requirements, such as RAICES, Justice for Our Neighbors, and Catholic Charities.
In conclusion, with free consultations and non-profits, there is absolutely no impediment to sitting down with an attorney, reviewing options, and determining whether you can work with that immigration attorney based on their rate. It certainly will not hurt and after all, with the current climate regarding immigration, isn’t it worth it?