Recently, I’ve had a few uncomfortable consultations where prospective clients clearly thought I could twist facts, makeup stories, or do other things to help them win their cases.
I’ve had to explain that my responsibility as an attorney is to help them navigate the immigration system and to use the true facts of their story to build their case – not to craft a story for them.
I understand that in other countries, or even in other areas of law in this country, the role of an attorney can be very different. At the end of the day, though, I have to be able to sleep at night – and this is how I view my role as an immigration attorney.
Although I do not work for the court or for the government, I am a representative of the judiciary. This means that I am held to certain ethical standards. I cannot present a known lie to my adversary. I am also under an obligation to represent my client to the best of my abilities and do not prejudice their case.
When these two conflict – for example, let’s say a client tells me that they married a U.S. citizen to get a green card – I cannot represent them before USCIS and say that this is a legitimate marriage because I know it isn’t. But I also cannot go to USCIS and tell them that this person has committed marriage fraud. I simply withdraw from the case and wish my client – now former client – the best of luck with their future.
I can’t “unhear” any information that clients tell me. I know people wish they could take back negative information when I tell them that the new details make their case impossible or more difficult or more expensive.
It doesn’t matter that the government has no way of knowing if you came into the U.S. five times without inspection. If you tell me that, I cannot honestly sign a form saying that you only entered the U.S. once. If I sign a form that has information on it that I know is false, I could lose my bar license – my entire professional career would be in jeopardy. And no client, no case, nothing is worth that.
There are also some people who have thought I can create a story for them.
This may happen when someone wants to file for asylum in the United States, but they don’t really have a strong story of their own. I can usually tell right away who this will be by how they answer my questions.
If they answer my question with their own question – “what will be better for my case?” – then I know they are looking for a script to follow. They are not telling me the true facts of their history.
A case built on lies is dangerous and wrong. Do people do it and get away with it? Yes. But that does not make it right. It only makes it harder for people with legitimate stories in the future to win because USCIS has to be on the constant lookout for fraud.
As an immigration attorney, my job is to provide quality, ethical representation for my clients. If I believe in a case and I believe my client, I will fight with everything I have. But, I will not lie or cheat – we all deserve better than that.