TIPS FOR SELF REPRESENTATION
Following up on my previous post, I thought I'd provide some free advice for those who are planning on tackling the immigration process themselves:
1. Never pay for any immigration forms
All immigration forms come with instructions and are easily downloaded, typed into, then printed and submitted. Visit www.uscis.gov to find the forms you need. You will want to save the form to your computer BEFORE you begin filling it out. Don't forget to save the document again after you've filled it out. Then print for submission. (Yes, you can also fill the forms out by hand, too.)
2. Never send originals
Aside from the actual signed immigration forms (i.e., I-130, I-485...) and sealed medical exams, never send your original documents! Aside from the very real possibility that the document gets lost, there is the additional possibility that it will get scanned, marked, and hole punched. It may very difficult to request originals back. I had a client who submitted her passport to immigration. It took her nearly two years for her to get it back.
3. Double check the filing fee and filing address
Filing fees and filing addresses may change frequently! Do yourself the favor of reviewing the fees to make sure you have included the proper amount and you have correctly addressed the payment. If you are sending a money order, don't forget to sign it!
Usually there are TWO filing addresses for each application packet. Make sure that you use the correct address based on your method of mailing. If you are planning on heading to the post office (and do not plan to send your application via Express mail) you use one address. If you are sending via courier service (UPS or FedEx) you would use another address.
4. Schedule a consultation with an experienced immigration attorney
A consultation is when the attorney talks to you about your specific situation, whether you are eligible for a benefit, how you can apply for a benefit, and how long the process is expected to take. This is when you should ask all the specific questions that confused you during steps 1-3.
Depending on the attorney, they may also be willing to review the forms you've already put together. I won't check over your forms to see if you spelled your own name and address correctly, but I will look over your forms to see if you are completely missing a section or an important form.
5. Make a Copy
Always remember to make a copy of EVERY document you submit before you mail your application. This will help you to remember exactly what you submitted and prepare for your interview. If you have a need to consult with an attorney later, you will not lose valuable time trying to request a copy of the documents from Immigration. (FOIAs are currently taking approximately 5 months to process!) Also, if Immigration sends you a request for something you've already sent in, (Yes, this happens with some level of frequency.) you will not have to scramble to obtain a duplicate copy.
5. Don't Fret
If you forget to include something, Immigration will almost always send you a Request for Evidence telling you exactly what you failed to include and how to include it. If you want to speak to a live Immigration Officer, you can schedule an INFOPASS appointment at your local U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) office.
6. Be Prepared to Wait
A look at case processing times will give you an idea of when you should expect an answer on your case. Know that these times vary from office to office and case to case. If you have a complicated case, it may take longer to review your case. Be consistent in checking the progress of your case online, but also remember to be patient.
DON'T NEED A LAWYER? YOU MAY BE RIGHT.
In this day and age, there is so much information available online. From official websites such as www.uscis.gov to legal self-help sites like www.nolo.com. So why pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for an attorney? I agree!
During consults with potential clients, I will occasionally meet a couple who brings a neat stack of pre-filled immigration forms and supporting evidence. They ask me to represent them in their one-step (family petitioning and adjustment of status) process. As I review the documents, I find a few minor errors, but find that the application as a whole is nearly 95% ready to mail. I point out the couple's errors, then tell them, "You can hire me to submit this for you, but frankly, I think you can do it yourself."
While I don't want to turn away business, I have an obligation to you to advise you on what is best for you. If that means that I must tell you that you're wasting your money on hiring an attorney to represent you, then so be it.
The folks I usually recommend to "do it yourself" usually share the following characteristics:
Then there are the folks who come into the consultation just to double check and are told that they should not file their application without an attorney:
While you may not need a lawyer, it is always in your best interest to have a consultation. Immigration filing fees have increased significantly over the last few years. For a $100, you can rest knowing that you are eligible, filed the right petition, to the right place, and are on your way to obtaining the benefit you seek.
On more than one occasion, I have met the proud parents of a U.S. citizen, who can not understand why their application for a green card was denied. Within minutes, I was able to determine why they were ineligible. I spent the rest of the time during the consult explaining why they were ineligible, and brainstorming alternative options for them.
Whether you choose to self-represent or hire an attorney after the consult is entirely up to you. Just don't flush thousands of dollars and months of your life applying for something you were never eligible for in the first place.
At the end of August, our legal assistant, Karina, travelled to Dilley, Texas to volunteer for a week at the family detention center. Read about her experience serving the detained below:
Once they arrive to the United States, border officials are telling women they are criminals and liars. Because detention centers must meet a certain number of quotas, many women and children are detained while few are released to their families in the United States. The women and children who are detained are sent to the “Ice Box”, “Kennel” or both. These are the nicknames given by the women.
We all shared one goal: to release as many women and children from the detention center.
As a volunteer, my day started by going through security and getting ready for the first intake presentation. I wasn't allowed to bring my phone, or even my toothpaste into the facility. I assume this is to make it seem like the women and children are dangerous. The first intake presentation started at 8 am. Each day, 60-80 newly detained women would gather for our presentation. We explained who we were, why they were detained and the asylum process. The second group were for the women with credible fear interviews scheduled. The women would gather in a circle and I would give a presentation on what type of questions they should expect and encourage them to share as much detail as possible. Those who speak an indigenous language, listen to a recording in their native language. These recordings were made by previously detained women who wanted to pass on the knowledge of the immigration process in their native languages.
After the group presentation, we would provide individual mock hearings for the women. Each woman was paired with a volunteer in a closed room so the women would feel comfortable sharing their story. It was difficult for them to share their past because they try to avoid reliving the traumatic experiences of assault, rape, and domestic violence. My goal was to empower these women to share their stories with the immigration officials without feeling ashamed of their past or their decision to provide a better life for their children. Each of these mock interviews would last about 30 minutes and were emotionally exhausting. At times, the whole experience felt surreal- why were we spending valuable tax dollars to detain these helpless women and children?
Our work with the women would end at 8 pm, but some days we would stay for mandatory staff meetings. Even when there were no meetings, we would gather as a group for a late dinner. All the volunteers and staff I worked with were amazing and had such big hearts. We all shared one goal: to release as many women and children from the detention center.
If you interested in volunteering, you don’t have to be an attorney or speak Spanish. You can also help the project by donating money and supplies at http://caraprobono.org/. You can also help by bringing social awareness to family detention- there are a group of women in the Berks Detention Center who have been detained for more than a year now.
Above all, let’s work together to END FAMILY DETENTION.
Karina Perez-Gonzalez, September 2016