I often get calls from individuals with complex immigration cases, who, after briefly telling me their story on the phone, almost always ask “Do you really think I need an immigration lawyer for my case?”
I wondered why someone would ask that, especially when they are calling an immigration lawyer for advice in the first place. The fact that they are calling me is a sign that they are concerned about something, and usually, they are rightfully concerned. As an immigration attorney, I always advise foreign nationals to seek help of an experienced immigration lawyer for any matters involving contact with the U.S. immigration system, from the simple to the complex. The U.S. immigration system is broken. It is complex. There is a lot of room for errors (by the foreign nationals and by the immigration service). And these errors could wind up costing significant amount of money and time.
Many of my clients come to me after they either tried to do their case on their own, or after reading about the immigration process on an Internet chat room (bad idea), thinking “if other people did it on their own, why can’t I?” When I review these cases, it is usually clear (to me) what went wrong, and why the Internet chat room advice the client received from “someone else with the exact same problem” was wrong. No two cases are alike. Internet chat rooms are not a proper forum in which to seek professional legal advice. The facts of people’s cases are usually drastically different from each other, such that one person may be eligible for an immigration benefit, and another person may not be. Yet, people look for hope in these chat rooms. I know this because my clients have told me they wandered into the chat room “hoping” that someone could answer their legal questions (without fully knowing all the facts). How can one expect an unqualified person without knowledge of immigration law to know whether the facts of a particular case are favorable or unfavorable to seeking a specific immigration benefit? Internet
Besides Internet chat rooms, the other place where people seem to go for immigration help is “travel agencies” or “notarios” who often speak the native language of the client to make them feel comfortable. Often, the individuals helping at these agencies are not qualified immigration lawyers and they usually do not ask more questions than necessary to prepare applications or forms. But an experienced immigration attorney will always ask more questions than necessary, because that is the only way to spot potential problems. For example, a client came to me after he went to a travel agency to help him file an adjustment of status case based on his marriage to his United States citizen wife. The agency prepared all the documents and filed the case, but at the client’s interview, it was discovered that the visa he used to enter the country was fake. He now needed a waiver in order to adjust his status. On top of this, his application was denied and he was placed in removal proceedings in an immigration court.
When I asked the client whether he had discussed this with the person who prepared his case, he replied, ” no one ever asked me anything about how I came to this country or whether my visa was real or fake.” I asked him whether he reviewed the questions on the adjustment of status application, where there is specifically a question about whether the applicant ever used fraudulent documents to enter the United States. Unsurprisingly, he informed me he never even saw the application, and only signed the last page at the very beginning of the case when the agency had him “sign all necessary paperwork for the case.” Because the client wasn’t asked the right questions and no one reviewed the application with him, the client was now facing deportation in immigration court, and had to spend more money on fighting his case, which was otherwise winnable with the waiver (he had excellent favorable equities).
Internet chat rooms and travel agencies should be used for their intended purposes — making new friends or sharing hobbies or making travel arrangements, respectively. They should not be used to obtain legal advice on immigration matters. There are too many stories about “notarios” and agencies being shut down by state attorney general’s offices in many states. But by the time this happens, the immigrants are the ones who suffer, having given their money away to people who are not held to any ethical or legal standards (like lawyers are held to).
So the next time you have the urge to ask an Internet chat room “expert” or a travel agent about your immigration case, think of the possible consequences of not being asked the right questions the first time around!
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