As a Riverside immigration lawyer, I’ve spent nearly 20 years in the trenches of immigration laws.
During this period, immigration rules have become increasingly stricter, leaving immigrants with fewer options for legalized status in the U.S.
Even in family-oriented administrative cases.
From winning a family-based visa, to becoming a permanent resident, and to achieving U.S. citizenship, the regulations for immigration benefits have tightened.
I’ve watched immigration law become a zero-sum contest.
As an immigrant, if you win, you get to build a future here, with all the privileges of living in the United States as a legal resident or citizen.
If you lose, you likely have to go back to your home country. This often means a return to immense poverty, widespread corruption, physical torture, or worse.
If you’re like most immigrants, you know the process of becoming a lawful permanent resident, and later a citizen, is difficult.
Most likely, you’ve probably thought about hiring a lawyer to help you and your family.
But you don’t know where or how to start.
That’s where this article comes in. In this short piece, I’ll share three insights to help you pick a high quality green card attorney for your needs.
1. When Experience Counts … And When It Doesn’t
Most experts assert experience is one of the most important qualities you should consider when seeking an attorney.
Generally speaking, they’re right.
However, too much can be made of experience.
Every lawyer, after all, has to start off with no experience. And to be honest, an enthusiastic, highly driven new attorney may do a better job for you than a more experienced, worn-out lawyer.
That said, experience has its advantages. All things being equal, when coupled with commitment and compassion, experience is a definite asset.
Having been around the block a few times, I know a lot more about preparing for hidden stumbling blocks than when I started practicing immigration law nearly two decades ago.
If you have a chance to hire an experienced attorney who still has fire in the belly, he or she deserves your serious consideration.
2. Specialized Knowledge Often Trumps Experience
When it comes to experience, it is not simply a matter of how long an attorney has practiced law.
There are many different areas of law.
Within the field of immigration law, there are various types of immigration cases.
This means, since immigration lawyers handle different kinds of immigration cases, it could be beneficial if the attorney you select has handled matters similar to yours.
An attorney may have spent most of his legal career working on employment petitions, where an employer sponsors an employee for immigration benefits.
His experience with family immigration visas may be limited.
Another difference pertains to representing clients in technical citizenship and naturalization matters.
When it comes to selecting a permanent residence lawyer for your family-based green card, you need someone who has represented and assisted immigrant families both here and abroad.
The immigrant visa system, like our immigration judicial system, is overwhelmed with too many cases, too few employees, and overly restrictive administrative rules. The steps for moving applications forward, confronting adverse evidence, and presenting supporting documentation are far more truncated than in regular state or federal courts.
In these situations, specialized knowledge is a trait essential to your success.
3. Dedication To Immigration Fairness
Your immigration lawyer should be dedicated not only to the practice of immigration law, but also to the principle of legal fairness for immigrants.
Immigration law is a byproduct of federal politics . . . and federal politics is often driven by factors unrelated to the best interests of American immigration policy.
As a result, immigration law has turned into one of our country’s most complex areas of law.
Even specialized experience is not always enough.
Politics dictate when and what new immigration laws are passed.
Once the political smoke clears, conflicting provisions are too often left intact.
Over time, as immigration cases move forward, these contradictions are brought to light.
In addition, as politicians rush to achieve short-term goals, for their short term personal gains, the new laws passed tend to impinge on immigrants’ constitutional protections.
Unfortunately, as the Supreme Court has noted, Congress has the power, like Humpty Dumpty, to give words unorthodox meanings – meanings which conflict with our notions of due process.
Later, higher courts are called upon to resolve the contradictory regulations and unconstitutional rules passed by Congress.
Such challenges generally start at a lower court, moving gradually up to the Supreme Court.
The process may last several years.
Because these cases take a long time to work their way through the legal system, only a dedicated immigration attorney is likely to keep fighting as long as it takes to achieve immigrant fairness.