Musings on Immigration

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USCIS and Why You Need an Immigration Attorney

Being an immigration attorney is a joy.  I absolutely love what I do.  Helping people navigate the nightmare that is our current immigration system, deal with an entrenched bureaucracy, and advocate for my client's legal and human rights are all part of a day's work.  Being part of changing people's lives for the better and helping make the American Dream begin is the ultimate reward.   But, not everyone likes what an immigration attorney does.  In fact, it appears that the USCIS is at the forefront of not liking immigration attorneys very much!

As the result of recent litigation by the American Immigration Council, seeking through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) copies of USCIS training materials, a little gem was produced which goes a long way toward explaining USCIS hostility toward immigration attorneys.  In a PowerPoint presentation entitled "USCIS Adjudicator Interaction with Private Attorneys and Representatives" USCIS takes what can only be called an intolerant tone toward attorneys, beginning with the supposition that attorneys are an annoyance that have be dealt with and ending with a joyous set of PowerPoint slides called "Why attorneys use confrontational or belligerent behavior."  

Are you curious as to why USCIS thinks that attorneys use "confrontational or belligerent behavior" in an immigration interview?  Well so am I, since I have never seen a lawyer do such a thing (or perhaps the folks at USCIS do not understand the difference between advocacy and belligerence?) Here are the four reasons given by USCIS:

  • Misguided understanding of what it means to zealously represent a client;
  • To fluster or intimidate adjudicators into giving up a line of questioning;
  • To give their clients time to develop an answer to your question; and (my personal favorite)
  • To impress clients and justify legal fees.

Noticeably absent from the stated reasons is the principal one I have encountered for an increase in rhetoric between an adjudications officer and an attorney, USCIS adjudicators do not understand the role of an attorney in USCIS interviews--making sure the USCIS officer follows the law.  Far too often USCIS adjudicators fail to understand the law applicable to the benefit being sought. All too frequently USCIS adjudicators would rather ignore an attorney's attempt to correctly inform them of the law applicable in the particular case than accept the attorney's attempts for what they really are--an effort to get to a successful resolution of their client's case.

Let's be clear, not every attorney appearing before USCIS is an angel sent from heaven. But, likewise, neither is each attorney advocating on behalf of their client a messenger from the devil himself. So long as USCIS remains focused on finding fraud in every case (even those cases without it), it is essential to have an immigration attorney by your side advocating your case and ensuring that the law is followed to the letter.  Common wisdom says that only those who seek to be arrested talk to the police without a lawyer present.  Our jails are full of folks who pled guilty because they had no legal representation.  The Immigration courts are also full of people who were denied immigration benefits because they had no attorney advocating for them before USCIS. Take the lesson USCIS wants you to learn from its training materials. Have a lawyer present to defend and protect your legal rights whenever you speak to a USCIS immigration officer.  

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