Why Do You Need A Lawyer In Immigration Court?


By Reeves Miller Zhang & Diza

empty-court-roomOne of the worst moments in an immigrant’s life is when he receives a Notice to Appear in Immigration Court. All his hopes and dreams for a life in this country flash before his eyes.  As they begin to fade away he asks himself  “Is this the end of my life in America?” “What do I do now?” The answer to the first question may very well depend on how he answers the second.

An alien receives a Notice to Appear because Immigration & Customs Enforcement (the prosecutorial arm of the Department of Homeland Security) has decided that the person should be removed from the United States.  There are many reasons for such action.  Maybe the alien has stayed longer than his non-immigrant visa allowed.  Maybe he has entered the United States without any visa at all.  Maybe he misrepresented some material fact in order to obtain either a non-immigrant visa or a green card.  Maybe he is a green card holder who has committed a crime.  These and other reasons can result in a person being placed in removal proceedings.  At that point, it can feel like the full force of the United States government is directed toward seeing to it that the person is forced to leave the U.S.

An alien who feels that way is not far from wrong.  The full prosecutorial arm of the Department of Homeland Security (in the form of an assistant chief counsel) is focused on removing that person.  The immigration judge, who answers to the Attorney General and the Chief Immigration Judge in the Department of Justice, is there to judge the evidence placed before him.  He cannot find evidence. He cannot prepare or present a case.  A well-presented case by an assistant chief counsel of ICE must be met by an equally-well or better prepared case by the alien or his representative.

It takes someone knowledgeable in immigration law to determine if the alien is eligible for any relief that will stop deportation from happening.  However, that is just the beginning.  Just because a person may be eligible for relief does not mean he will get it.  It is necessary to present sufficient documentary evidence and oral testimony to convince the immigration judge that the immigrant is eligible for that relief.  That evidence must clearly convince the judge that the person meets all the elements for the relief he wants.  Once he has presented all the evidence to support statutory eligibility, he must convince the judge that she should exercise her discretion to grant the relief.  In other words, he must present more evidence to show the judge why, despite having overstayed or lied or committed a crime, he should be given the benefit of the doubt and a second chance at a life in America.

Statistics show quite clearly that the majority of cases in immigration court are denied.  The statistics also clearly showed that aliens who were represented by competent counsel fared far better than those who attempted to represent themselves. In fact, the article said that aliens who were represented by lawyers were five times more likely to be granted relief.

The reasons for this are obvious.  In addition to knowing what elements have to be met, a knowledgeable attorney also knows the most effective way to present that evidence.  She knows the most persuasive evidence to prove extreme or exceptional and extremely unusual hardship.  She knows how to present evidence of rehabilitation or good moral character.  She is familiar with what is necessary to show that the alien will be persecuted in his home country.  She knows how to present negative as well as positive facts.  And if negative facts are out there, they must be dealt with.  They must be presented by the alien in the least harmful manner before the government presents them in the way likely to cause the greatest damage.  All of these hurdles must be met if an immigrant is going to be able to remain in the United States.

At first thought, it may be tempting to try to save money and represent oneself in immigration court.  However, the price of losing the case is much higher than a reasonable attorney’s fee.  Don’t place your life and future in the hands of inexperience.  Place those precious assets in the hands of an experienced and knowledgeable immigration lawyer.  Your future depends on it.