There are a lot of people out there- including many lawyers- who believe that if you can fill out a form then you can do whatever you need to do when it comes to immigration law. This is simply not true. Now, I am a Seattle immigration attorney. I also practice in other areas of the law, but immigration was and is my first love, when it comes to law. Immigrants are the backbone of our economy. They are holding us up from the bottom by doing essential jobs that many Americans feel are beneath them and they are driving us forward by bringing fresh ideas and different ways of thinking, which is what spurs innovation and growth.
Here’s what I tell my skeptical colleagues: in some ways, immigration law is a lot like tax law. Not everyone needs an accountant, or a tax lawyer for that matter. For some people, all they do is fill out a Form 1040. If you are an employee and get a W-2 your tax return is not that complicated. You may or may not want to use an accountant. But this isn’t always the case. In fact, for many people, their tax filings are more complex.
It’s similar with immigration law. Sometimes the matter just isn’t that complicated and it may only require a simple filling out of forms and following instructions. Examples of this might be renewing your green card, or even naturalizing as a U.S. citizen. But when it comes to applying for many visas, whether for employment, or to bring a spouse or fianc to the U.S., or you are trying to adjust your status, or you are seeking asylum, to name just a few examples, an experienced immigration attorney can be more than worth the expense.
First, remember, there is an art to filling out forms, especially when each question on the form is specifically related to a federal statute and how you answer it will dictate whether you get the relief you are seeking or not. Second, an experienced immigration lawyer will know the current immigration law and policies, which is crucial, since this is one area of the law that does not stay still and you want to make sure that you are seeking the appropriate relief and completing the right forms correctly. Third, an attorney can help avoid administrative delays, and negotiate on your behalf with the various government agencies that may have control over your matter, such as USCIS, a consulate, DHS, or the State Department.
Now, I said that immigration law was similar to tax law in some respects, but it’s different in one very important way (among others). When it comes to tax law there is wiggle room. You can strategize about how to classify income, for example. You may owe a penalty if the IRS disagrees with you. In extreme cases you may even commit tax fraud and end up in jail. When it comes to immigration law, there is very, very little wiggle room. And if you make a mistake, you may be deported. You may even be barred from re-entry into the U.S. Green card holders can be deported if they are convicted of even minor crimes. A refugee who has applied for and received asylum can be found to no longer be eligible for asylum if conditions change in their home country. If you fail to attend a removal hearing, it may be held in your absence and the judge could order your deportation. In other words, mistakes in immigration law can be costly and sometimes, irreparable.
So, if you are contemplating filling out just a “few forms” for an immigration matter, before you file anything, talk to an experienced immigration attorney–it’s worth it.
Legal Disclaimer: Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice. It is for information purposes only.