By Attorneys Robert L. Reeves and Devin M. Connolly
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) is the branch of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that oversees lawful immigration to the United States. As a result, all non-citizens applying for immigration benefits in the United States will likely have extensive contact with USCIS. An alien’s interaction with the USCIS can potentially be very stressful and unsettling especially if an alien is not adequately represented by an experienced attorney specializing in immigration law.
Even before an alien ever comes in contact with USCIS, a decision needs to be made whether to represent oneself or retain the services of an immigration attorney. It is impossible to overstate the importance of this decision, as it will likely be one of the most significant decisions that an alien will make in their lifetime.
Regardless of the alien’s ultimate decision, the alien will likely be required to appear for a personal interview with a USCIS officer before their requested benefit is granted. Appearing in front of a USCIS officer can be a very intimidating experience. Moreover, some interviewing officers may question the alien in an aggressive manner, potentially even framing their questions in such a way that an unsuspecting alien may mistakenly make a misstatement disqualifying themselves from receiving the requested benefit.
The personal interview may be the alien’s first encounter with a USCIS officer and may even be the first time that an alien has ever appeared before a government official. This lack of familiarity with the interview process frequently causes aliens to become anxious and nervous. The process can be overwhelming due to the importance of the interview. These feelings of uneasiness or uncertainty are hardly ideal as it may cause the alien to accidentally misstate the facts which can cause irreparable damage to an alien’s ability to ever lawfully reside in the United States.
Fortunately, an alien has the right to be represented by an attorney when appearing for a personal interview. Despite this right to counsel, there are many aliens who decide not to hire an attorney to assist them, perhaps because they do not want to spend the money, or possibly because they believe the process is easy and that an attorney is simply unnecessary. Though many aliens may believe they possess the knowledge required to effectively represent themselves, an alien should be aware that the statements they make at their personal interview could cause them to be barred from the United States for many years, or even for a lifetime.
On the other hand, aliens who decide to retain a capable and qualified immigration attorney possess several advantages. An experienced immigration attorney will properly prepare an alien for the variety of questions they are likely to be asked during their personal interview. And while it is always recommended that an alien be completely honest and truthful during their interview, adequate preparation before the interview is crucial to the alien’s remaining relaxed and composed despite the stressfulness of the situation. Moreover, an attorney present during an interview is able to speak passionately on the alien’s behalf, often helping to convince the officer to grant’s the alien’s application.
In addition, an alien represented by an attorney is also far more likely to submit a properly-filed and well-documented petition or application for the immigration benefit. The submission of sufficient documentary evidence, ranging from a birth or marriage certificate to complex medical records demonstrating hardship to a qualifying relative, is vital since aliens have the burden of proving that they are eligible for the immigration benefit. Therefore, evidence submitted must clearly convince the immigration officer that the alien satisfies the required elements as set forth in the Immigration and Nationality Act. In this regard, an experienced immigration attorney is essential because, in addition to knowing the required elements, a knowledgeable attorney will also be able to present the evidence in a manner which establishes that the applicant meets the legal requirements and if necessary, emphasizes the hardship on a qualifying relative, highlights the alien’s rehabilitation or good moral character, and minimizes potentially negative aspects of the case. The documents submitted and statements made by aliens at their personal interview are easily the most important factors in the USCIS officer’s analysis of whether to grant an alien the benefit sought.
When one’s future in the United States is on the line, it is always advisable to retain the services of an experienced and knowledgeable immigration attorney.