There is no doubt that the United States economy is a slump. One needs only to visit a local grocery store or drive by a gas station to have a clear picture of the current economical downturn. While coping with soaring prices and trying to stretch each dollar as far as possible, foreign nationals may be tempted to forgo seeking legal advice from competent immigration attorneys because of financial woes. However, now more than ever is the time where having a competent and reliable immigration attorney can be invaluable and can prevent unwanted removal from the United States. And, while other firms are letting staff go during these slow economic times, we have been blessed with the opportunity to continue our expansion. In my humble opinion, our ability to grow and expand is the result of our insistence upon quality, honesty and results.
Immigrants should resist the urge to navigate on their own through the maze of complicated immigration laws or rely on advice of an immigration consultants or paralegals. For example, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office and the California State Bar recently investigated operations of RZ Services, Inc. based in Montebello, which had been providing immigration legal services without proper licenses to more than a thousand clients. Romina Zadorian, the owner of RZ Services, was not an attorney or even a bonded immigration consultant. Yet, she and her staff engaged in an unauthorized practice of law by giving legal advice to their clients and stealing their money, which had been designated for payment of the required filing fees. Needless to say, RZ Services was shut down last month and their numerous clients are now left in the cold. Immigrants should also forgo being duped into spending ridiculous amounts of money on attorneys that claim to be better because they charge more.
Having access to a good and honest immigration attorney can be especially important when the immigrant gets arrested or detained by the immigration authorities. The National Immigration Justice Center recently indicated a very troubling increase in immigrants who have signed their deportation orders and have thus given up their right to see an immigration judge because of lack of understanding and language barriers. Generally speaking, a person apprehended by the immigration authorities has a right to get an attorney and go before an immigration judge to apply for relief from removal from the United States. However, when he or she signs a stipulated order of removal, he or she consents to be being shipped back to the native country without going to court.
Lack of understanding and inability to speak English can sometimes have dire consequences. The National Immigration Justice Center reported a recent egregious case, which involved a Columbian woman who signed a stipulated order or removal pursuant to which she would be deported to Mexico, and not her native country of Colombia. The poor woman did not speak English well and clearly did not understand what she was doing. When she learned of her mistake, she attempted to correct it, but it was not until her attorney got involved and helped her with this difficult situation.
According to the National Immigration Justice Center, over 30,000 stipulated orders of removal were signed last year occurred predominantly in 4 places: Eloy, Arizona (accounted for 20%), Chicago (16%), Seattle (6%), and Lancaster, California (9%). Interestingly, 85% of the immigrants in detention are not there because of serious criminal convictions, but rather because they are in the United States illegally and/or because of simple traffic violations.
Therefore, in this era of increasing number of worksite raids and removal cases, the need for immigration attorneys is even more important. Immigrants, especially those presently arrested or detained by immigration authorities, should know that they have certain rights and be aware of the following:
- They have a right to speak with a lawyer who can visit the immigration in detention. The government will not pay for the attorney. Thus, the immigrant and/or his or her family members will have to hire a lawyer.
- They have a right to remain silent.
- They have a right to review any documents provided by the immigration authorities. The detained immigrants should not sign anything without first talking to a lawyer, especially if the documents pertain to stipulated orders of removal. Otherwise, they may be giving up their right to seek relief from removal.
- Judges and immigration officers are not their friends. It is not their job to explain the immigration rights and legal options. In fact, immigration officers sometimes provide incorrect information to the detained immigrants.
- Detained immigrants have a right to contact their consulates.
Despite the difficult economic times, foreign nationals should seriously consider retaining services of reputable and reliable immigration attorneys before they decide to put their immigration cases in incompetent hands of non-attorneys and even themselves. This investment may turn out to be the best money they have ever spent and can prevent removal from the United States.