It never ceases to amaze me. Attorneys take credit for writing articles on immigration law and they haven't made an appearance at the Immigration Service or the Immigration Court in YEARS. Is it important to make appearances? Absolutely! Then and only then can you truly be effective in representing persons before the immigration service be it at court or otherwise. Simply put, only then can you "keep it real". So, before you hire a lawyer, don't be afraid to ask: "When is the last time you've been to the immigration service?
If I were asked that question today, my answer would be "on Monday". Here's what my client from Monday wrote: "We got approved!!! I mean I got approved!!! The meeting (interview) went great! Thanks so much for all of your work on our case. I can't tell you what all of this means to me, I have waited all of my life for this to happen. Every attorney I ever went to said I was asking for the impossible. You guys have made my biggest dream come true. I feel like I just won the lottery! lol A million times over thank you from the bottom of my heart! =)". In answering the question, I would also point out that my partner, who is a former immigration officer, was at the immigration on Monday and Tuesday.
Contrary to what other lawyers might tell you, it matters. It matters if the attorney you are about to hire routinely appears at the Immigration Service. It matters because there are attorneys giving information about an organization they have never visited or if they have it was 10 or 15 years ago when the place was still called the INS. Boxers who haven't fought for years and then step back into the ring are said to have ring rust. It's not from a lack of training. It's from a lack of fighting.
Normal pitfalls can be avoided if you are familiar with the path upon which you are travelling. Lawyers who routinely appear, who have experienced the process, are aware of the local rules and procedures and most importantly, have the contacts and relationships that allow them to directly solve a problem. A lack of experience, knowledge or familiarity can cost you and your family.
Ironically, these self-proclaimed experts-who don't show up at your hearing- are often critical in print or on television of the Immigration Service and its officers without realizing that the Service is comprised largely of Pinoy officers who read these articles. Then, when their subordinates show-up instead, it is these very subordinates who bear the burden of the scorn and engage more in reputation rebuilding of "their" firm then in representing you. Obviously, this will make an impact on your case.
In addition to the above, the following recent cases are given as an example of what experience at the Immigration Service can do and hopefully sheds further light on the value of hiring an active and involved attorney.
Recently, a very loving couple that was ready to file for adjustment of status hired our firm. The U.S. citizen husband was much older than his Pinay wife and they wanted to know if that would be a problem and how would the Immigration Service handle this type of case.
Anticipating the treatment they would receive at their interview we were able to properly prepare them for what turned out to be a 2 1/2-hour interview, an interview that concluded with an approval notice. The process they went through was part of the new procedures and techniques the Immigration Service is employing on marriage interviews. They were aware of such new procedures because they hired an attorney who personally attends his client's interviews at the Immigration Service on a routine basis.
A Pinoy who was in deportation proceedings where he was seeking adjustment of status based on his marriage to a U.S citizen hired us recently. His case had been continued four times over the course of 2-years because the Immigration Service had not adjudicated the I-130 petition. His attorney had filed the petition at the California Service Center and had not received a notice of approval.
What this attorney did not know was there was a different procedure for filing I-130 petitions for court. He did not know that a seldom-used room was the appropriate site for such filings. This lawyer did not know because he never actually appears at the Immigration Service, his underlings go on his behalf. What should have been completed long ago was still pending because the experienced attorney turned out not to be so experienced.
Do yourself a favor, if you ever find yourself in need of an immigration attorney asked when the last time he or she was actually there, it might save you some heartache.
Richard M. Wilner is a founding member of Wilner & O'Reilly, APLC. He is certified as a specialist in Immigration and Nationality Law by the State Bar of California's Bureau of Legal Specialization. He previously served as a Commissioner on the State Bar of California's Immigration and Nationality Law Advisory Commission. He is the Military Liaison for the Southern California Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers' Association, the co-chair of the Orange County Bar Association's Immigration Law Section and serves on the Board of Directors of the Orange County Jewish Bar Association. Mr. Wilner holds a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy and Religious Studies from the University of California, a Certificate in International law from the National University of Singapore, a juris doctor (J.D.) from University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law and a Master of Laws (LL.M.) from the University of the Pacific in conjunction with the University of Salzburg, Austria.