It should come as no surprise that having an attorney by your side in court significantly increases your likelihood of success.  For the immigrant facing deportation and those not in detention, represented immigrants are “more likely to obtain the immigration relief they sought,” says a new study by the American Immigration Council (AIC).  This is the first national study on access to counsel in U.S. immigration courts.  Based on this study,

  • Represented immigrants in detention who had a custody hearing were four times more likely to be released from detention;

  • Non-detained represented immigrants were nearly five times more likely than their unrepresented counterparts to obtain relief if they sought it (63% with counsel versus 13% without);

  • Nationally, only 37% of all immigrants secure legal counsel;

  • Mexican nationals in removal proceedings are the least likely to be represented by an attorney (only 21% are represented), and 55% of Jamaicans facing removal are represented.

Thus, securing immigration legal counsel is an investment worth making, particularly for immigrants facing deportation or difficult immigration challenges.  However, finding good legal counsel may not be as easy as it sounds.  Some immigrants find it challenging to find an attorney they could trust.  Others may not be able to afford legal fees.  Immigrants in detention may have additional hurdles to jump over, including limited resources in detention centers to connect them with an attorney, or unfair local practices that expedite removal hearings before they could secure an attorney.

Below are simple steps to help immigrants overcome the challenge of securing good legal counsel:

  1. Do Your Homework.  Finding a trusted counsel is important and worth the extra effort. It is

    not uncommon for immigrants to be mistreated by fraudulent actors who are motivated only by excessive legal fees and, at the end of the day, the immigrant is shortchanged by poor or no legal services.  Take the time to ask friends, family and colleagues for referrals of attorneys that are trustworthy, reasonable and have a good reputation.  Once you have found an attorney, verify that he or she is a licensed attorney in good standing.  Most state bar associations have a free online member directory that will tell you whether your attorney is in good standing.

  2. Schedule A First Consultation.  Immigrants should not hesitate to begin the process of understanding their rights.  Many attorneys offer free or low cost consultations to discuss the immigrant’s legal problem. This is the best way to learn how the law treats your problem and to hear from an attorney about the strategies that he or she recommends to address the problem. Immigrants should treat this first consultation very seriously by preparing questions that they want the attorney to answer.  Depending on the complexity of the matter, the attorney may recommend that additional research be performed before he or she can recommend a legal strategy.  Although the attorney may charge an hourly rate to perform this additional work, the immigrant will benefit from knowing that the case was properly researched.

  3. Find The Money.  Immigrants with little or no income may find it challenging to pay legal fees. However, they cannot afford not to.  Once they find a good, trusted attorney, they should negotiate a payment plan with the attorney to make the representation more manageable.  They could also seek assistance from family and friends to help pay the legal fees.

  4. Stay On Top Of Your Case.  Once you have hired an attorney, stay in touch with the attorney to learn where things stand with your case. A good attorney will make time for his or her client. In fact, attorneys are ethically required to update their clients about key developments in the case.

To read AIC’s full report, Access to Counsel In Immigration Court, visit https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/access-counsel-immigration-court.

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