Every immigration situation presents its own special timelines. Is it ever too late to hire an attorney? Is it ever too soon? When should you hire a licensed attorney to assist with your immigration matter?
To use my favorite lawyer’s answer: It depends.
SCENARIO: MY GIRLFRIEND LIVES IN ITALY AND WE WANT TO GET MARRIED.
Answer: The answer depends on what your long-term goals are. If you know for certain you want to live in the United States, schedule a consultation whenever you are engaged. You’ll need to talk about the difference between a fiancé visa and an immigrant visa.
If you’re not sure where you’ll live permanently, but she comes to the U.S. for a visit, talk with an attorney before she returns to Italy to discuss the possibility of adjusting status.
SCENARIO: MY BOYFRIEND WAS ARRESTED FOR DRIVING WITHOUT A LICENSE AND IS IN THE COBB COUNTY JAIL.
Answer: Work with a criminal attorney first to get your boyfriend out of jail. Once the criminal matter is cleared-up (fine paid, charges dropped, etc.) and if he has an ICE hold, ICE has two business days to come and get him. If at the end of day two ICE has not picked him up, he should be released.
I suggest finding a criminal defense attorney with some experience working with immigrants because the sentence imposed will have a huge impact on future immigration matters.
SCENARIO: I HAVE AN IMMIGRATION COURT HEARING TOMORROW.
Answer: If it’s your first hearing, you don’t need an attorney immediately. Normally, the Immigration Judge will give you a short continuance to allow you time to find an attorney. You may only have a few weeks, so immediately after your first hearing, start making consultations.
If you’ve seen the Immigration Judge before, hiring an attorney the day before the hearing is not a good decision. The Immigration Judge will expect the attorney to know everything about your case and file for any type of relief you may be eligible for at that hearing.
This puts the attorney in a very difficult situation because hiring her last minute makes it very difficult to effectively represent you. Sometimes the Immigration Judge will allow for one more continuance, but will not be happy about it.
SCENARIO: I RECEIVED A NOTICE OF INTENT TO DENY, NOTICE OF INTENT TO REVOKE, OR REQUEST FOR EVIDENCE.
Answer: Hire an attorney as soon as possible and be sure to bring that letter from USCIS with you. They often have short deadlines (as little as 30 days) and require a massive amount of work. Not only does the attorney need to understand what USCIS wants, but they have to piece together the work that’s already been done on the case so they have a complete picture of the issue.
SCENARIO: LAST NIGHT, I WAS THE VICTIM OF A VIOLENT CRIME.
Answer: First, make sure you are safe! Cooperate with law enforcement by not only reporting the crime but making sure you respond to any reasonable requests they have and ensuring they have a way to contact you.
Once you feel secure and stable enough to talk about the event, find the time to talk with an immigration attorney who can help you with a U visa or other types of humanitarian assistance– even if it’s weeks or years after the incident.