WHO WILL DEFEND ME NOW? Guide for finding a lawyer BY NICOLÁS OLANO, Immigration attorney
When Immigration knocks at our door, or when we want to reunite our family in the United States, the question that comes to mind is “Who will defend me now?” Roberto Gómez Bolaños—a renowned Mexican comic—coined this phrase. Who do I call? Below I will provide a guide to finding a lawyer. The first thing people do is ask: do I need a lawyer? Well, that depends. It depends on the case; we must remember that all cases are different. So the advice my cousin or my coworker gave me might not be the best for my case or me.
The Internet is the best place to start your search. Immigration and Citizenship Services (USCIS) has a helpful website. If you handle English well, you understand the instructions without a doubt, and you do not have an issue that affects your case (we will talk about those “issues” below), then you may proceed without an attorney. (I underline: you must be 100% sure that there are no issues in your case). If you do not understand something, you may try first to get an appointment with an immigration officer via an infopass request. They will not be able to give you legal advice, but they could clarify your doubts. If after the appointment, you are sure you can go forward without a lawyer, then go for it. If you have doubts or any of the following issues, then you must reach out to an attorney:
1) You crossed the border in an unofficial way 2) You have been arrested, ever, for anything 3) Immigration has denied an application you led previously 4) You have committed a crime for which you were not arrested 5) You have been deported or you are going through a deportation process 6) You have been undocumented in the US 7) You want to file an asylum application because you are afraid to go back to your country 8) You have worked without permission in the US.
If you are concerned about any of the above, then consult with a lawyer.
So now that I know I should consult with an attorney, how do I find one? The Internet is the best place to start. Sites such as www.avvo.com or www.justia.com provide a ranking of the lawyers near your area. Ask yourself the following: Does he have any experience with my type of case? How does she compare to other lawyers? How much does he charge? Does she charge for the first consult? Does anyone in my community know him or her? Evaluate, and then choose.
Four things are important at the consultation: 1) Ask directly if the attorney has handled a case like yours. You do not want a lawyer learning how to do a case with you. You can ask also how many times he has won, or how many she has lost.
2) Feel comfortable with your attorney. Is it someone you can talk to? Does he give you his phone or email to communicate with him? Does she speak your language? 3) How much does your whole case cost? Does the price include immigration costs, mail, or other expenses?
4) Finally, how does he charge? Does she take credit cards or offer payment plans? Use this information and if necessary consult with more than one attorney.
I hope these points help you find an immigration attorney or determine if you need one for your case. Remember: ask. This is your case, it is your life, and it is your family. Always ask. There are no wrong questions.
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