|By Susan E. Hill, April 10, 2017
How can an immigration lawyer make a difference in your case? “It’s just filling out forms. . .” is what many people think. In fact, the immigration system can be very complex to navigate, with laws being cross-applied from several sources. Also, the government will not give you the benefit of the doubt, and it is your burden to convince the government that you qualify for the immigration benefit. While an attorney isn’t necessary for all cases, here are some reasons why an attorney can make a difference for you.
Time, money and peace of mind
You can save time, money and peace of mind by making sure the case is handled properly and efficiently. The average government filing fee now ranges from $300 to $500-plus, per form. You can’t afford mistakes or starting over and re-filing. Our law firm has seen self-represented people start a case in the wrong place, or fail to follow procedure, or miss a deadline they didn’t even know existed. Another common thing we see is when people waste money applying for something they aren’t eligible for. Finally, people will attach conflicting or confusing documents, or they assume the government will connect the dots and work hard to understand the puzzle pieces of their case. All of these situations cause delay in your case, and quite often they result in the government issuing a Request For Evidence (RFE) or a Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID). A competent immigration attorney will avoid these situations, and give you peace of mind that replaces the self-doubt about how you answer questions on the form, or which documents to attach, or what the latest government correspondence means.
When the case processing goes haywire
The government makes mistakes, and an attorney recognizes when that occurs and knows how to fix it. For example, in one of our recent cases we had to intervene repeatedly because the government made numerous consecutive mistakes over a period of a year in a marriage case: it issued an RFE, lost the documents that were filed, threatened to deny the case, issued a second RFE, then mistakenly issued a grant letter, and then issued a denial letter ten days later with no explanation. This jungle of mis-steps had to be handled correctly at each new development. Through numerous emails to USCIS, official written responses, a DHS Ombudsman complaint, and identifying whether to file an appeal or a motion to reopen, we kept steering the case back on track. Even then, USCIS suddenly changed its policy and requested further documents with an impossibly short due date, and we had to negotiate a compromise. Without an attorney, this case probably would have ended up in a dead-end, costing the law-abiding applicant enormous stress, delay and further money in filing fees.
Prior immigration record of deportation/stop at the border, or a criminal record
These situations need to be taken seriously. Many people think they have a minor record that can be explained away. Or they believe their record is clean, when in fact it is not and it jeopardizes the case. Sometimes people don’t even know they have a record, or they wrongly believe the government won’t find out. An immigration attorney recognizes “red flags” and will do thorough research into what happened and how it affects the case. A prior deportation, or even a stop at the border, could be a long-term bar to further immigration benefits such as a green card. Similarly, most criminal records can never be erased for immigration purposes, and they will prevent you from winning your immigration case if they are not addressed properly. Even worse, the laws change without notice and can be applied retroactively: yesterday your case was fine, but with a new immigration case decision, now you are in trouble.
You are not obligated to hire an attorney, but these are some common reasons where having representation can help make the process less stressful and quicker.
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