If you have an immigration case, especially if you are in front of an immigration court in removal proceedings or have any kind of complex issue with USCIS, it is essential that you have a DC immigration lawyer who practices primarily or exclusively immigration law. It is an incredibly complex area of law. A lot of people may say that they dabble in it, but it is really an area that requires practice in consistently and exclusively to have real knowledge of how to proceed with a case.
Unlike criminal law where it’s possible to look up statutes and cases and figure out how to navigate through the system to a certain extent, in immigration law, there are things that a DC immigration lawyer will need to know that are unpublished. Bits of information that are vital like, adjudication practices in specific USCIS offices, or consular posts, ICE and DHS attorney’s culture and practice norms in particular regions, and even approval ratings for asylum cases of individual judges throughout the country. These things cannot be learned in a book – a person will need to have someone on their side who has experience and training in immigration cases.
Looking for a DC Immigration Attorney
First, if someone is facing deportation proceedings, they should have an attorney who is familiar with the climate and the culture of the office of chief counsel and the immigration judges in the court that they’ll be appearing in. There are huge differences in approval ratings for certain types of cases, especially for asylum cases, from judge to judge. There are judges in the country that have approval ratings as low as 10 to 12 percent, and judges that have approval ratings close to 90 percent. It is a type of law which is very unevenly distributed, and it is invaluable to understand the predicament one is stepping into before formally beginning the process. As a result, it is very helpful to have a lawyer who understands the local culture.
Another benefit of a DC immigration attorney who has experience will be knowledge of the certain type of application or defense that you are pursuing in immigration court. Most immigration attorneys handle immigration cases exclusively. They only do immigration law and thus have a better-rounded grasp. There are also many immigration attorneys that only do employment based visas, or they focus only on consular processing or waivers. There are other immigration attorneys that focus only on family-based petitions or humanitarian-based petitions. It is unlikely to benfit someone’s case if they hire someone for a complex asylum matter when the lawyer only handles H1Bs.
When someone consults with a lawyer, they can expect an initial intake which will include an evaluation of their goals, and an evaluation of their past history. Often, during this intake an experienced immigration lawyer in DC will ask questions that people are surprised by. They do not realize why they are relevant. That is because there are a lot of different avenues for legalization in the United States, and the best option in their particular case might not be something they expect.
There are instances where people think their only option is to apply for a waiver through an application through a family member and waiver, but they may have been the victim of a crime and eligible for a U visa instead. It can provide a more direct path towards legalization in some cases.
Factors That May Affect a Case
Another important factor in the initial intake is a person’s criminal history. When a person comes in for a consultation, they should bring any kind of documentation that they have ever received from immigration, criminal courts, or the police. This is true even if the client thinks something was dismissed or they just received probation or a deferred prosecution. Anything in their criminal history can be relevant. They should have this information available at the first meeting. Also, if they have ever been a victim of a crime, they should have documentation about it, if it is possible.
Another important issue that a DC immigration attorney will address with their client is the timeline. Sometimes this is really shocking to people. For instance, an individual may be immediately eligible to apply for status, the adjudication times for some petitions can take years. And, people who are in removal proceedings in many regions can now expect wait times for final hearings of up to 6 years from the time their cases are initiated.
One very common misconception are people that think that they are eligible for some type of status that they are not. One way that this comes up a lot, is with people who are applying for family based petitions. They think that they are married to a U.S. citizen, so they are automatically eligible for some kind of status. The person may have a criminal conviction from 10 years ago that seems very minor at that time, like a small drug possession conviction, but it makes them removable.
In cases like this, the submission of the application for lawful status will be what lands them into immigration court proceedings. One of the big misconceptions is that people think immigration law is simpler than it is. It is actually a dense and complex area of law. If your case is not completely cut and dry, it is really worth it to at least consult with a DC immigration attorney before submitting an application.
Immigration Issues in Washington, DC Metro Area
DC is an interesting place to practice because it is so multicultural. There are people with diplomatic issues which you see here more often than any place else in the country. There are also big populations of certain ethnic groups. DC has a lot of people from El Salvador, so there are a lot of issues with temporary protective status or Temporary Protected States (TPS), which is a type of benefit available to people from certain countries, including El Salvador.
Another issue that DC deals with is the slow adjudication times in the Arlington and Baltimore immigration courts, which are extremely slow right now. However, that is true in a lot of courts throughout the country.
One thing that stands out about the DC-metro area is that the Metropolitan Police Department is relatively welcoming towards immigrants. There are a lot of other places, including out West where the police departments are extremely combative and very anti-immigrant. DC immigrants are lucky in the sense that they do not have law enforcement officers that are conflating their law enforcement duties with immigration enforcement, which you do see in places like Phoenix.
How a DC Immigration Attorney Can Help Out-of-State Clients
Even if you live outside of DC, you can absolutely consult with an immigration lawyer in DC. Immigration law is federal. You can practice it anywhere. A lot of petitions are not in court and do not require physical appearances in front of the immigration judge. Even if you are in court you can apply for telephonic appearances in many circumstances. An immigration attorney can also travel to other areas of the country and appear in court for their client.