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When Something Is Wrong With Your Case, Who Do You Call For Help?

– Posted in: Immigration Law, Policy & Politics | Client Relations
Immigration Attorney Batara To The Rescue Of Immigrants

I was not surprised when Jose lost.

Even though his case had some complicated twists, it was not unwinnable.

What was his fatal mistake?

He failed to call  . . .


If there’s some strange officers in your neighborhood
Who you gonna call? (ICEbusters)

If there’s something weird in your case
And it don’t look good
Who you gonna call? (ICEbusters)

I ain’t afraid of no ICE
I ain’t afraid of no ICE

An invisible man
Talking on your Facebook page
Who you gonna call? (ICEbusters)

I ain’t afraid of no ICE
I ain’t afraid of no ICE

If you’re all alone
Pick up the phone
And call ICEbusters

If you’ve had a dose of a freaky ICE ghosts
Running through your head
You better call ICEbusters

(If you want some sound for the background, click here:

Three Options For Immigration Help

Three years prior to losing, Jose and his wife, Elena, visited my Riverside immigration office for a strategy and planning consultation.

We talked for nearly an hour about Jose’s immigration situation.

He had the elements for putting together a winning case, but he had a few issues which needed to be delicately handled.

We discussed their goals, their hopes for family security, and how various pathways to a green card, with a little positive luck, solid planning, and tight execution, could turn their dreams into reality.

They asked a lot of good questions and took a lot of notes.

They seemed intent on doing what was necessary to put their fears of deportation and family separation behind them.

Although unspoken, it was clear they arrived with three options in mind.

  • Handle Jose’s case on their own
  • Rely on a non-attorney to help them
  • Hire a lawyer

(Of course, there was a fourth option. They could continue to ignore Jose’s case altogether. They could continue to do nothing. I sensed they understood that’s not a true option, and I could tell such non-action was no longer a viable alternative to them.)

They had many positive factors in their favor. This meant, on the other hand, they had many reasons to fear ICE.

Elena had attended two years of community college and was now a Registered Nurse. She was a regular volunteer for homeless and physically disabled non-profit agencies.

Jose was the manager of a successful local business, where he had worked for nine years. His employer valued his dedication and he earned a good salary.

They were buying a home and had three children, ages 4, 5, and 8. They were active church-goers and both served as youth counselors for their congregration.

They left as undecided how to proceed as when they walked into my office.

Sound familiar?

Option 1: When Should You Handle Your Case By Yourself?


Yes, it’s true. Some cases are easier than others.

The run-of-the-mill family visas petition or citizenship application matters, on the average, are not as tough as a deportation defense case at immigration court.

But are any cases truly run-of-the-mill?

Are run-of-the-mill cases problem-free?

And if your case is run-of-the-mill, are you equipped to handle it?

The Uniqueness Of Your Immigration Case

The idea that unrepresented immigrants can handle run-of-the-mill cases is related to a misconception about the similarity between cases.

For over 20 years, I’ve practiced permanent residency law.  During this time frame, some cases involved the same general areas of law.  But they have never been similar enough that I could simply copy-and-paste my work from one case to another in its entirety.

No two cases are the same.

No two immigrants, even if they are twins born on the same day, in the same village, to the the same parents, have the same exact case.

There will be some differences.


So if someone suggests that your case is just like the one Uncle Billy had three years ago, you might want to take the comment with a grain of salt.

Similar in some ways?  Maybe.

Similar in all ways?  Improbable.

Unless you’re legally trained in immigration law, how can you know how yours and Uncle Billy’s case are the same?  How can you know where they differ?


More significantly, how can you know if the sameness or differences pose special issues to deal with?

In other words, unless you’re legally trained in immigration law, how can you know which cases are more complex than others?

Many Case-Defeating Problems Are Not Obvious

This takes us directly to perhaps the most difficult part of self-representation.

Do you know the trouble spots to watch out for?

Do you know the ins-and-outs of each line of the applications you fill out?  Do you know the ramifications of each question asked on your permanent residency and naturalization paperwork?

If you cannot strongly answer yes to these questions, it is not safe to assume your case is run-of-the-mill or just like Uncle Billy’s case.

It is not safe to assume everything will go smooth, even when filling out immigration forms that seem straight-forward.

You should never blissfully ignore what you do not truly comprehend.

Now, let’s go a step further down the self-help path.

You submitted your permanent residence paperwork on your own.

Your application was denied.

What you should do in this situation seems a no-brainer.

When your case is about challenging a denial of your petition or application after an interview at a local immigration office, your case is, in all probability, not something you should tackle on your own.

Unfortunately, some immigrants continue to plow ahead, alone.

If you didn’t win the first time out, and the determining factor was anything more than a missing birth certificate, why do you think the judicial heavens will part and the immigration Gods will smile favorably upon you, despite your lack of training to address complicated legal matters?

When some applications are denied, immigrants are summoned to appear at immigration court.

To face deportation charges.

Should you ever consider going alone?

At immigration court, on a difficulty scale of 0% (easy peasy) to 100% (super, super complex), most cases fit somewhere between the 60% – 80% mark.

The same general percentages apply – and the specific case difficulty is usually higher – when you’re fighting a decision after you lost your case and a judge at court has ordered you to be deported.

So let me ask.

When there’s something strange in your case, something you don’t understand, who you gonna call?


Option 2: When Should You Rely On A Paralegal, Notario, Or Friend To Help You?

Most immigrants know handling immigration cases on their own is a huge undertaking.

Many look for someone other than an attorney to help them.

At times, this approach will work.

Other times, it won’t be in your best interests.

Non-attorney assistants are typically drawn from family relatives, church friends, immigration assistants, paralegals, or, in Spanish-speaking communities, notarios.

Why do immigrants decide to use a non-attorney assistant versus hiring a lawyer?

What criteria is used to make this decision?

Generally, this path is chosen based on personal relationships, fees, or a combination of both factors.

In an economy such as ours, where the cost of living is high and immigrant wages are often low, these considerations are understandable.

Seeking the help of a non-lawyer assistant may be all that’s affordable.

At the present time.

Let me repeat that point.

At the present time.

Patience may be warranted.

When Is Urgency The Deciding Factor?

Not all cases have instant due dates.

Not all attorneys demand full payment up front.

Rushing forward can lead to one’s worst immigration nightmares.

Speed is often the enemy of wise prudence.

Haste is often the enemy of sound strategy.

When speed and haste are not absolutely mandated, saving money or borrowing funds remains possible for some immigrant families.

When to rush and when to slow down are not considerations immigrants, their advocates, and even lawyers should minimize.

Rather, when to rush and when to slow down should be part of comprehensive case planning.

In many cases, preparing a cautious fall-back defense should take precedence over seeking to quickly move offensively forward.

This is especially true in the Age of Trump.

When Should Fees Be The Deciding Factor?

Let’s return to the fees issue.

Fees should not be the only factor dictating your choice of going alone, with a non-legal representative, or a lawyer.

Nor should fees be your primary factor – except in those situations when no other choice is possible.

Is your situation truly urgent such that patience cannot possibly improve your chances of winning?

If the answer is yes, that dictates your calculations.

However, assuming your situation does not suffer from such urgency, before you take the non-lawyer assistant road, you should slow down for a moment and carefully weigh two problems which can flow from the non-lawyer approach.

Immigration fraud. Professional incompetence.

Both problems arise, in many instances, due to a lack of knowledge about certain aspects of our legal system.

All immigrant communities are plagued by rip off artists, posing as immigration experts, who will try to take advantage of immigrants and their families.

The vast majority of these scams involve non-attorney immigration assistants.

The likelihood of immigrants falling prey for professional incompetence by a non-attorney assistant is linked to the failure to appreciate the value of legal training and attorney licensing requirements.

Lawyers are under a duty to keep up on changes to the law, and to know how these changes may affect your case.

These regulations are critical for the protection and guidance of immigrants seeking help.

Your family relatives or church friends have no such obligations.

Paralegals, immigration assistants, and notarios who sell and prepare forms, provide typing services, or fill out applications have no such obligations.

At best, most non-lawyer assistants have limited understanding about the variety of options which might help you and your family win legal immigration status.

They are not trained to assess clients’ unique circumstances or how your circumstances are impacted by recent changes to the law.

They take, in varying degrees, a cookie cutter approach.


Yet, as touched on above, one size does not fit all.

The chances of denial or defeat, under a cookie cutter approach, are heightened.

Denials and defeats can happen even if the person helping you has the best intentions.

The absence of training and regulations exacerbates an already precarious situation into a potentially worse set of circumstances.

For instance, I have seen instances where immigrants, assisted by family members who previously worked in an immigration office, prepared and filed immigration applications – applications which were subsequently rejected by the government.

And as with self-represented immigrants, these types of denials can cause immigrants to be sent to immigration court to face deportation charges.

Once again, I’m prompted to inquire.

When there’s something strange in your case, something that might cause immigration problems, who you gonna call?

Option 3: When Should You Hire An Attorney?

In the end, whether you decide to handle your case by yourself, with the help of a non-lawyer assistant, or with the assistance of an attorney, this is a personal choice.

Sure, I’m an attorney, and this makes me slightly biased on this issue.

Nonetheless, I believe my legal brethren deserve more credit than the public often gives them.

When you have a case which you cannot handle on your own, and it is above the knowledge level of non-lawyers, hiring an immigration attorney is often warranted.

In other words, when you have a hard case, you should seriously consider legal representation.

Even in this situation, many clients hesitate.

Such reluctance is based on two factors.

First, how do you know which lawyer can really help you?

With so many radio, television, newspaper, magazine, and internet ads, it’s hard to know who to hire.

Second, can you afford – here’s that ugly question again – attorney fees?

In fact, focusing on how much it costs to hire an immigration lawyer can also lead you down the wrong path.

Let’s look at these points in more depth.

Attorneys As Commodities

Despite the excessive amount of lawyer ads, too often you cannot differentiate most lawyers from each other.

Their ads use similar words to describe them. They dress and talk alike. They even promise the same results.

Since they seem so similar, why should the fees from one immigration lawyer to another be different?

If your view of lawyers is colored through this framework, it’s likely you approach hiring a lawyer like shopping at a grocery store.


It doesn’t matter what cartoon of milk you buy. They’re all the same. And if all milk is the same, why not buy the cheapest brand?

Under this perspective, attorneys are commodities.

Each one is the same. You’ll get the same results whomever you hire.


Deep inside, you know this is not true.

Consider any group of professionals.

You know there are doctors, and then there are doctors.

You know there are accountants, and then there are accountants

Likewise, you know there are lawyers, and then there are lawyers.

In short, not all lawyers are the same.

Often a good immigration lawyer can make a difference.

But how and where do you find this person?

Do Fees Make The Lawyer?

To be sure, attorney fees are not always the best clue about who you should hire.

Some lawyers charge more, some charge less.

Some bill by the hour, others use a flat fee structure.

The most expensive lawyer is not always the best for you.  The lowest priced attorney is not always the worst choice.

The answer to the question, “Do I really need an immigration lawyer?“, is up to you.

You – and only you – can make this decision.

Make it as intelligently as possible.

Be sure to weigh all the factors outlined above.

Should you decide to hire a lawyer, only you can choose which attorney to hire.

Still, the reality is that even if the person helping you has the best intentions and superior training, denials and defeats happen.

The difference, in my view, is that a good immigration attorney can often make a positive difference . . .

. . .  and a positive difference is more likely to occur with the assistance of a lawyer vis-a-vis handling your case alone or with a non-attorney assistant.

In short, I believe immigrants should almost always hire a lawyer.

I know, I know, that’s easy for me to say.

I’m not the one who has to make such a choice. (I do – except not in immigration cases.)

The decision regarding which option for proceeding is not easy.

The best advice, however, is also the simplest.

Make your choice as carefully as possible.

Take time to weigh the issues discussed in this article:

  • About run-of-the-mill cases and the unique aspects of your case
  • About your ability to recognize trouble spots and rushing forward without building a solid back-up strategy
  • About potential immigration fraud and professional incompetence

You’ll have the foundation for a deciding how to proceed.

Why wouldn’t you take the time to ponder such matters?

Don’t follow in Jose’s footsteps.

Don’t rush forward without competent assistance when complicated issues are likely to surface in your case.

After all, your future – and your family’s future – is on the line.

So one more time, when you have a dose of a freaky ICE ghosts running through your head, who you gonna call?

By Carlos Batara, Immigration Law, Policy, And Politics