By Attorneys Devin M. Connolly and Nancy E. Miller
The ability to lawfully live and work in the United States is a dream of so many people. The fulfillment of this dream requires the aspiring immigrant to navigate the United States’ immigration laws, which are considered to be a very confusing and complex area of law. However, despite this complexity, and the incredible importance placed on being granted permanent resident status or U.S. citizenship, countless numbers of aspiring immigrants attempt to achieve their immigration goals without the assistance of an experienced attorney who specializes in immigration law. Sure some may indeed succeed, but many others do not; and this failure may lead to their ultimate nightmare – being deported.
A person born outside the United States, commonly referred to as an “alien,” files their request for immigration benefits with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). The USCIS is a branch of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Prior to filing any application with the USCIS, it is imperative for the applicant to confirm their eligibility for the requested benefit. This assessment requires a review of many things, including dates of entries and exits from the U.S., type of visa (if any) held at entry to the U.S., the immigration status and history of the applicant and their family members, etc.
Successfully applying for immigration benefits requires much more than merely completing required forms. It must include an accurate assessment of the applicant’s eligibility for the requested benefits. Eligibility must take into account the impact of any and all prior immigration history and criminal history – in this country or any other. This assessment is essential, because applying for an immigration benefit when you are not actually eligible may lead to a person being immediately deported.
Previous immigration problems may mean that the alien is not eligible for the relief that they are seeking. It may also mean that the alien will require a waiver of a ground of inadmissibility. The same is true for criminal history. They type of conviction or the sentence may preclude the alien from relief (and result in deportation). Alternatively, it may require a waiver with a showing of extreme hardship to the qualifying relative(s). Criminal immigration problems may exist even if the alien was not actually convicted of a crime if the event causes the officer to have a reason to believe that they are ineligible.
It is crucial to submit a well-documented request for an immigration benefit. The submission of sufficient documentary evidence is vital since the applicant has the burden of proving that they are eligible for the requested benefit. In light of the fact that the burden of proof is on the applicant, they submit evidence that is thorough and persuasive to maximize their chances of being granted the requested benefit.
Aspiring immigrants should do everything possible to ensure their personal interview is successful. These interviews can be stressful, nerve-wracking experiences. It may be the applicant’s first time attending a personal interview for an immigration benefit with the USCIS, and they are likely to be questioned by an experienced USCIS officer who has conducted many of these types of interviews. The USCIS officer may aggressively question the applicant, they may pressure them to answer questions to which they do not know the answers, and they may also allow the applicant to make statements that are harmful to their case. Saying the wrong thing during an interview can make it significantly more difficult to ever lawfully reside in the U.S. And while the applicant may later realize they misspoke or that they did not actually understand the questions they were being asked, it may too late to fix the problems created. The application may already be denied and the Department of Homeland Security may have already begun the process of deporting them to their native country.
Representation by an attorney includes not just preparing and submitting the application, it also includes preparation for the interview and attendance at the interview with the alien. What an applicant said or did not say may be the basis of a delay in adjudication or a denial. The attorney should be there to ensure that the questioning is fair and lawfully permissible – and to stop an interviewer who oversteps his or her bounds.
Federal Court judges have said that the only area of law that is more confusing than immigration is tax law. Maneuvering one’s way through the statutes, regulations, case law and personal interviews should only be done with the help of an experienced and knowledgeable attorney who is dedicated solely to the practice of immigration law. Hiring the right attorney may be the difference between obtaining a green card and being deported.