Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Deferring Action: The Benefits of Legal Counsel

Deferring Action: The Benefits of Legal Counsel

Immigration attorneys hear it time and time again:

Do I need to meet with a qualified lawyer to review my situation? 

Do I need to hire a lawyer to assist me with this application or process?

Well, in the case of the recently announced Deferred Action initiative for certain undocumented youth, known by many as DREAMers, perhaps we should ask Chris Crane these questions.  In case you didn’t already know, Chris Crane is a top official for the union representing some Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, and over the past couple years  he’s disagreed with just about every policy directed towards his agents from his superiors in Washington, D.C. 

Mr. Crane is now claiming that ICE agents have been told to “blindly” and without credible evidence release DREAMers who they come in contact with. As a lawyer who has dealt with ICE and the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) regarding the release of DREAMers since June 15, 2012, my experience has been that they have always requested verifiable evidence prior to release.  With Mr. Crane’s unsubstantiated pronouncements, it is obvious that there are people within the rank-and-file of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that are not happy with this initiative. 

Mr. Crane’s statements come on the heels of DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano’s defense of the initiative before the House Judiciary Committee where she was grilled by numerous congressional representatives regarding this announcement.  Secretary Napolitano testified that our immigration laws are not designed to be “blindly enforced without consideration given to the individual circumstances of each case.”

What does all this mean to DREAMers who may qualify?  In the coming weeks and months they will make some critical decisions that could considerably impact their lives for the near future.  Decisions that could lead to the opportunity to land a work permit, drivers license and possibly gainful employment.  On the other hand, this is a decision that could land a person in hot water and potentially exile from the United States.  For some, it will be best not to file due to the inherent risks.  Many unanswered questions still exist (can anyone out there tell me what a “significant misdemeanor” is?). 

We know that this initiative will be closely scrutinized by the few who disagree with the entire concept of DREAM.  There will be officers and politicians who will want to find any indicia of fraud to try and derail this program and any similar programs or legislation in the future.

We also know that, as of today, DHS has stated there will be no appeals of denied requests.  We know that there is the possibility of applicants having to attend a face-to-face interview with officers at DHS.  Therefore, with the risks, applicants have a lot to lose if they do not consider, at the very least, a one-on-one consultation with a licensed immigration attorney.  Furthermore, while the actual process is not yet in place, it is advisable to start getting credible documentation assembled.  Once final guidance has been set, and possibly filing deadlines, there will be a flood of applications.

So, if you are thinking about requesting deferred action, ask these questions:

Do I need to meet with a qualified lawyer to review my situation? You would be well served to seek the counsel of a reputable immigration attorney or a representative of a non-profit organization certified by the Board of Immigration Appeals to provide assistance in immigration matters.  A qualified provider is your ally in this process and could help you navigate through a process that could be laden with some unforeseen landmines.

Important Note: An attorney should provide an honest assessment of your case and advise you not to apply if it is not recommended under your particular circumstances.  You can always get a second opinion, but this is a good sign that the attorney you consulted with has your best interests in mind.

Do I need to hire a lawyer to assist me with this application or process?  That is a matter of personal preference.  However, if you do decide on hiring an attorney you should do your own due diligence.  Remember that attorneys are bound by ethical provisions and are required to provide competent legal representation to their clients. 

Finally, you must understand that while your case may look perfect on paper there are absolutely no guarantees when you are dealing with the government.  Therefore, be wary of anyone who makes blanket guarantees about the processing, time-frames or likelihood of success.

For more information and updates on the Deferred Action Program, check the American Immigration Lawyers Association Resources page.  You can also find a lawyer who is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association in your area at the website.  Additionally, here is a list of recognized organizations and accredited representatives from the Executive Office for Immigration Review, U.S. Department of Justice.