While it’s true that not every immigration case requires an attorney, I’ve seen few great examples of why it’s not a good idea to take the ‘cheap’ route and try to always do it yourself. Let me share some stories (names changed, of course) with you.
Example One: Amy goes in for her naturalization interview, but the immigration officer starts to ask her about a prior case – specifically about her I-751. She doesn’t have an attorney. The officer starts to accuse her of fraud on the I-751. Why? Because when she filed, she had a pending divorce, but the officer says that she failed to disclose that and said she was married.
Technically, if Amy’s divorce was pending, she was still married. Amy says she send in information about her pending divorce back in 2010 when she filed the I-751. She wants my advice, but since I wasn’t at the naturalization interview since I don’t know anything about the old I-751, there’s nothing I can do right now. The only thing I can tell her is to wait for the immigration officer to make a decision and then either hire me for an appeal or potentially refile.
Would having an attorney represent Amy through the naturalization process have made a difference? Quite possibly, yes. I always review my clients’ entire immigration history to make sure that there won’t be any unpleasant surprises like this. Also, if I had been there at the interview, I would have gone through the timeline with the Amy and the officer to make sure that they understood the facts and that they understood one another before any allegations of fraud were tossed around.
Now, Amy sits and waits, uncertain what her future holds when she should be thinking about registering to vote.
Example Two: Precious has an approved VAWA case and went for her adjustment of status interview. All VAWA petitions are protected by strict confidentiality laws, so I told Precious that she wouldn’t be asked any questions about her marriage, the abuse, or her abuser. If there are questions that make the interviewing officer suspicious about her veracity, the entire case should go back to the Vermont Service Center where there are officers specially trained in VAWA cases. The officer in Atlanta interviewing on the adjustment of status case truly has no authority over the VAWA petition – it’s about protecting the client and not re-traumatizing her.
The officer we had was friendly and personable, but the first few questions he asked were very specific about Precious’s marriage – how long was she married and where did she get married. After the second question, I reminded the officer that the VAWA petition had already been decided and we were only there to focus on the I-485 application. We debated the jurisdiction issue for a minute, but he thankfully moved away from the VAWA questions.
Although he wasn’t able to provide us with a decision at the end of the interview, we did receive an approval just two days later. It’s quite possible that he doesn’t see many VAWA-based adjustments of status applications and he just needed a reminder from me and then to verify it with research of his own or with a supervisor. Regardless, it makes me wonder what would have had happened if Precious had gone to the interview alone – how far would the questions have gone? Would she have been asked details about the abuse she lived through? Would she have left the interview in tears, thinking about the physical and emotional pain she endured?
A ‘simple’ case can become complicated with one small twist. A case that should be shielded by confidentiality may be given to an inexperienced officer unaware that certain questions cannot be asked. And these are just two examples from one week. As you can see an attorney can make all the difference in presenting a case, preparing for an interview, and for protecting your rights. Do you need an attorney? No, maybe not. But should you want one? Yes!