Q. What type of lawyer should I hire?
A: Above all you should feel comfortable trusting your lawyer with sensitive information. You should be treated professionally regardless of your background. The lawyer should provide proof and cite rules, regulations, and laws to support the lawyer’s advice. Immigration is a complicated area of law, so, if your case relates to immigration matters, we advise you to contact practitioners who are well-connected with the immigration lawyer community and its resources. When you meet your lawyer, do you feel genuinely welcomed and cared for? Or does the lawyer seem uncaring, self-absorbed, and uninterested to empower you? Are you talking to the lawyer about the legal case at the consultation? Or does the lawyer delegate this to legal assistants who are unqualified to handle it? Is the lawyer highly respected in the legal community with positive client reviews and peer endorsements or not? A good lawyer is accessible and works diligently to return your calls or emails, and if it does not happen, the lawyer will own up to it. A good lawyer will explain to you in clear language a plan to win your case, complete with a detailed analysis of the likely risks involved.
Q. How much will my immigration matter cost?
A: $150 is the price of our confidential consultation. There, we will review the legal issues and likelihood of outcomes with you. Then we can estimate a price for the entire representation and discuss whether a lawyer should be involved. We do our best to set reasonable rates. Your initial call or email is not billed. However, please respect the lawyer's time when you contact him or her. Our fees are reasonable and reflect the time required to complete your legal matter at a high level of quality. We encourage you to view an immigration cost as an investment. There is no substitute for dedicated, competent legal counsel when it comes to your life.
Q. Do you accept a partial down payment with installments?
A: We strive to set reasonable prices for you and for ourselves. We fully value your time and appreciate your situation, and we respectfully ask you to fully value our prices. In particularly difficult circumstances, we are open discussing payment plans. We will ask you to explain the financial situation necessitating such a plan and listen with compassion.
Q. I have a quick question…
A: Be careful when you believe you have isolated quick questions. Sometimes, stepping back to see the bigger picture, you may find that you have missed other questions. There are many clients who receive damaging advice, or interpret it poorly, because of viewing an issue in isolation when it is related to and dependent on other issues. It is rarely worth contacting an immigration lawyer unless you receive a complete consultation. There, you can get a better sense of the scope of your concern, as well as the practitioner's character, knowledge, and ability to assist you.
Specific Legal Issues
There is no substitute for competent immigration lawyers who can advise you about your immigration questions. So, in general, we encourage you to contact an immigration lawyer with any questions. The legal analysis below may not adequately address all the important legal issues you, your family, or employer face.
Q. I have many family members overseas. Can I bring any of them here to the U.S.?
A: Yes, if you are a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (green card holder), you can petition for certain family members to immigration into the U.S. Most often, the relatives must wait in their country or origin or in the country where they are staying before becoming eligible to enter into the U.S. If you are a U.S. citizen age 21 or older, you may petition for your child under the age of 21, your spouse, or your parent. There are no numerical limits on the amount of these immediate relative immigrant visas allocated in any fiscal year. So, the time it will take to bring a relative in these categories to the U.S. will depend on the time it takes the National Visa Center and consulate or embassy to adjudicate the initial USCIS petition approval. In the case of other family members, you must refer to the preference categories, which refer to the order of preference with which the U.S. government views these categories of relatives, to determine who you may petition for: F1: Unmarried Sons and Daughters of U.S. Citizens; F2A: Spouses and Children of Permanent Residents: 77% of the overall second preference limitation, of which 75% are exempt from the per-country limit; F2B: Unmarried Sons and Daughters (21 years of age or older) of Permanent Residents: 23% of the overall second preference limitation. F3: Married Sons and Daughters of U.S. Citizens: 23,400, plus any numbers not required by first and second preferences. F4: Brothers and Sisters of Adult U.S. Citizens: 65,000, plus any numbers not required by first three preferences. If your relative falls within a preference category, then you will want to determine approximately how long the wait times are. The U.S. Department of State publishes a visa bulletin each month to summarize availability of immigrant visas, as there is an annual minimum of family-sponsored visas per year.
Note that the wait times are particularly long for relatives from Mexico and the Philippines. For general information about petitioning relatives overseas as a U.S. citizen, go to the USCIS.gov website or go to this link: http://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/USCIS/Resources/A1en.pdf.
Q. I plan to marry my fiancée, who lives overseas, and then live with him/her here in the U.S. What are the best immigration options?
A. If you have a bona fide intention to marry, are legally able and willing to marry in the U.S. within 90 days after the fiancé's arrival, and you have met the fiancé within two years of the date of filing the petition (unless a waiver has been granted), then you may petition for your fiancé with a K visa. A particular danger that arises frequently is if the fiancé visits the U.S. on a tourist visa when the actual intent is to marry, not visit. There is a danger that immigration officials will place the foreign national in removal proceedings because it is a violation of immigration law to fail to maintain nonimmigrant status in which the alien was admitted. Also, you may wish to marry the foreign national in their country and file an immigration petition while the partner is abroad. This process may take longer, but be less complicated in the long run, in terms of additional filings and deadlines. For general information about petitioning for your fiancé living abroad, see information about the K visa: http://www.uscis.gov/family/family-us-citizens/fiancee-visa/fiancee-visas
Q. I am associated with a church. May I employ a foreign national living abroad to work as a minister or in a religious vocation or occupation?
A. Yes, an R-1 is a foreign national who is coming to the United States temporarily to be employed at least part time (an average of at least 20 hours per week) by a non-profit religious organization in the United States (or an organization which is affiliated with the religious denomination in the United States) to work as a minister or in a religious vocation or occupation. To qualify, the foreign national must have been a member of a religious denomination that is a bona fide non-profit religious organization in the United States for at least 2 years immediately before the filing of the petition. A prospective or existing U.S. employer must file Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker, on behalf of an R-1 worker. An R-1 visa cannot be issued at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad without prior USCIS approval of Form I-129. Visa exempt workers must present the original Form I-797, Notice of Action, at a port of entry as evidence of an approved I-129 R petition. See the following website: http://www.uscis.gov/working-united-states/temporary-workers/r-1-temporary-religious-workers/r-1-temporary-nonimmigrant-religious-workers.
Q. What are the reasons for which someone can be deported?
A: Technically, to be deported you needed to have been lawfully admitted in the first place. If a foreign national entered the U.S. without an officer's inspection, then there is an ongoing risk that that person may be removed from the U.S., unless this person has an ability to make a successful defense before an immigration judge. Reasons for deportation are listed in INA §237(c). Another related way a foreign national can be removed from the United States is if the person is deemed to be inadmissible. INA §212(a).
Q. I have received a notice from USCIS, saying that I am removable and that I have to go to immigration court. What can I do?
A: You should go to the immigration court. You have a right to an immigration lawyer, and you may hire one at your own expense. You should speak to an immigration lawyer to establish a plan of action before appearing before the immigration judge. Do not wait until the last minute to contact the attorney, as it may be in your interest to gather certain documents that require time to obtain.
Q. I have a friend/relative who does not have immigration status, and was recently placed in a detention center. What can we do?
A: You should immediately contact an immigration lawyer, however depending on the type of detention the lawyer may not be able to visit the individual immediately. Many detainees we meet are not fully knowledgeable about their rights or about the upcoming procedures, so it is highly recommended that a detainee speak to someone as soon as possible. Usually, a concerned family member will contact us about the detention. We will then be able to speak directly to the detainee about his or her options of getting bonded out of detention and of staying in the U.S. The Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) may set a bond, which is paid by a cashier's check and is reimbursed when the removal proceedings finalize. Sometimes, ICE will not set a bond and there is no amount of money ICE will accept to release the detainee. Conversely, ICE may decide to release the detainee on parole, which has become more common recently however policies may change over time. Not all detainees are eligible for a bond; it depends on whether the detainee has been convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude under INA §236(c). Another common issue is that detainees who are caught trying to cross the border illegally will not be eligible for a bond redetermination. INA§236(c). Certain exceptions apply. For example, a detainee generally has the right to a bond hearing determination before an immigration judge six months or more after the first day of detention; this law may vary based on local jurisdiction. Note that a bond determination hearing will examine whether a person is a threat to security, a flight risk or a danger to the community. It is advised that a lawyer assist with this hearing. These hearings go by quickly and can have huge consequences and the detainee will not get a second chance if one goes poorly.
Q. I am afraid to return to my country. Can I stay in the U.S.?
A: It may depend on whether you have a genuine fear of returning to your country, what proof is available to support your case, and whether your fear is on account of your race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. If so, and if you are not otherwise disqualified because of various other reasons, you may be able to obtain a work authorization or green card with a pathway to U.S. citizenship. If you are afraid to return to your country, speak to an immigration lawyer. There are a number of possible pitfalls in these kinds of cases, and these matters are highly fact-intensive, demanding a high level of scrutiny. There may be alternative ways to say in the U.S. outside of humanitarian relief. For example, you may be able to change your status to another type, or acquire residency through a spouse. It is critical, if possible, to work with a lawyer at the beginning. If you do a poor job with the initial submission or rely on a person who does not do a good job for you from the start, the record will be more difficult to correct. Be sure to keep copies of anything you submit to immigration, otherwise you will have to ask the government for a copy and depending on the coimplexity of the request this can take months.
Q. How can I become a U.S. citizen?
A: There are multiple ways to become a U.S. citizen, depending on your case. Here are some common possibilities: First, you may become a U.S. citizen through a family member, such as a U.S. citizen parent, spouse, or brother or sister. If you are still married to a U.S. citizen and received your lawful permanent residency through that person, then you may naturalize after 3 years. Or, you may become a U.S. citizen through humanitarian grounds such as asylum. After one year of being an asylee, you are eligible to apply to become a lawful permanent resident. Then, after 5 years of being a permanent resident, you will have the ability to naturalize. Or, you may have earned permanent residency through a self-petition like VAWA, and then you may naturalize after 5 years of permanent residency. Another possibility is if you win lawful permanent residency in removal proceedings based on a legal defense to a deportation, such as cancellation of removal for certain non-permanent residents. Here, you are also on a path to become a U.S. citizen. Note that DACA approvals are currently not able to become U.S. citizens, however there are limited circumstances that allow a DACA winner to gain permanent residency through advanced parole and subsequent marriage to a U.S. citizen. Generally, DACA winners must renew their employment authorization cards and this must be done before the expiration of the card otherwise their employment will lapse. We keep our eyes open for any new laws or court decisions that will positively or negatively affect DACA winners. There is a general interest to allow DACA winners a pathway to become U.S. citizens, however Congress will need to pass a new law for this to happen.