I am often asked whether hiring an attorney is really necessary. Apart from cases that are unusual or complicated why would an applicant for immigration benefits hire an attorney? I know the real meaning behind this inquiry is, "If I hire you will that send up a red flag to the Immigration Service that something is wrong? I have even been asked whether hiring an attorney offends the Immigration Service.
My response has always been the same, you may proceed without an attorney and you may do all right but to go without counsel because you are afraid that it will offend an officer is a mistake. The benefits of legal counsel far exceed pursuing residency alone. As a former immigration officer I would offer the following.
I had the unique opportunity to hear and see the inner workings of the Immigration Service. I was able to meet many fine officers and witness their dedication to their job and to the applicants they interview each day. However, this experience also showed me the wisdom of an applicant seeking the help of a legal professional prior to embarking on such an important path.
With the good that often comes from the mostly dedicated staff of the Immigration Service, I was able to see and hear what particular bias or incompetence that guided some officers during their interviews with perspective applicants.
There were times that I would overhear an officer treating an applicant in a harsh manner in an attempt to intimidate or scare. I have heard officers declare their bias towards a particular social group or ethnicity. In these situations personal baggage resulted in the application of incorrect principles or the citing of improper or irrelevant sections of law as the source of their power and authority.
Applicants without counsel are normally not aware of such abuses nor how to counter the harsh and direct treatment they received. The outcomes were often negative resulting in the denial of the case or long-term delays. The applicant is left with a feeling of hopelessness and of being abused. Without legal counsel at the interview the offending officer is not subject to a form of checks and balances and is free to do, as he or she will.
On other occasions I have seen well-intentioned officers make good faith mistakes that have caused applicants long delays or even deportation. On one occasion I even witnessed a nice officer give advice that resulted in five-years of delay with a case that culminated at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
These delays cause heartache, stress and of course, money. Your residency here in the U.S. is worth more than an effort to save money or to avoid possible offense to the Immigration Service.
Many applicants for immigration benefits pursue the legal residency path alone and do so at their own peril. For peace of mind and to have an advocate in your corner I recommend that you find an immigration practitioner with a solid reputation within the immigrant community and at the Immigration Service. Its money well spent.