Immigration law is not always logical. I remember before I was an immigration attorney I thought there could be no way the U.S. Government would keep foreigners who married US citizens from living in the country. “That is crazy!” I thought. My husband and I, before I was an immigration attorney, also didn’t know that mail from the US Department of Homeland Security would not be forwarded even when we had temporarily forwarded our mail for summer internships. That was an expensive mistake. Now, I know differently but only with time, education, and experience.
As an immigration attorney with a firm that provides solely immigration law services, I help people in many situations, some routine and some complicated. Several consultations start with people filing immigration papers on their own, or with a notario, and then getting to visa appointments to find out surprisingly that they need waivers. Or, consultations where people are shocked, just like I was beforehand, that there would be complications for certain foreign-nationals to getting approved their visas or green cards if they were married to a US citizen. You can't always use regular logic to understand immigration law. Some file the wrong documents or the wrong forms completely. Some don’t realize their criminal past will affect their immigration future. There are a lot of policies that aren’t obvious from the instructions forms and not everything on the internet is true. I wanted to pass on some tips I hope will help people navigate their immigration law experience with more ease:
· What I suggest from being a US immigration attorney, from going through the process myself with my husband before I was an attorney 10 years ago, and all the consultations I have had, is for families embarking on an immigration process to get a legal consultation with a competent immigration attorney before starting any immigration law process.
· Do your research; consult with an immigration attorney with a good reputation, good reviews, and experience in the area you need help.
· Don’t try doing the process yourself without getting a consultation or at least doing some strong research at the minimum. So many times I see people in my consultations having done a lot on their own and making many mistakes, losing filing fees, and in some cases their actions are impossible for me to correct by the time they seek help.
· Don’t just go to the cheapest person or attorney because you think you can’t afford anything else. You might be surprised, an attorney who charges for a consultation, might actually have very reasonable prices. The attorney who gives free consultations, might not be the best option or the cheapest. From what I see a lot of the time, trying to save money by cutting on quality of legal service, almost always comes back to haunting the client and requiring that they hire someone to fix the mess created before. I am saying this from years of experience watching actual cases and learning about them in consultations.
· Similarly, PLEASE, PLEASE, do not go to a ‘Notario’ or someone who says it is just a form and they help you fill out forms. They are not bound by a State Bar, they don’t have to deal with the legal repercussions, and they don’t know the law.
· If something happened in the past and you don’t have records for it, you might consider applying for FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) response. You need to know what the Government knows.
· Don’t listen to what you have heard from others about immigration. Your brother’s wife’s uncle’s neighbor’s cousin’s friend’s case is not exactly like yours. A lot of times you hear things from others and want to rely on that to make your decisions. It like a horrible game of ‘telephone’ but often the facts are so different there is no way to compare the cases and their outcomes.
· If you do take matters into your own hands, please make copies, keep copies of everything you file and send anything to the US Government with a tracking service. This will empower you and also your future attorney if you need help in the future. Like I usually say, you need a copy of everything the Government has until you become a US citizen so keep a file available, scan it, maybe even email it to yourself in a secure file to have it ready in case of emergency.
· If you ever get a response from the Government with a deadline, please seek legal counsel ASAP. In many cases, if you don’t respond or don’t respond properly, the case will be denied and you could be sent a Notice to Appear for immigration court proceedings.
· If you have had a consultation or two or three and they have similar conclusions, they are probably right. If one consultation sounds too good to be true after listening to others that weren’t so hopeful, bring up those issues and confront the attorney with your concerns. If there is nothing to do at the time, get a consultation every year or whenever you hear of major changes in laws, there could be a change that helps your situation.
By Ruby L. Powers, Houston-based US Immigration Attorney