Empowering undocumented young people in their pursuit of college, career and citizenship
GETTING LEGAL HELP
How to Get Started
It is important to find an immigration attorney (either in private practice or at a nonprofit) or BIA accredited representative (at a nonprofit organization) who can adequately consult and represent you, especially if you have a complex case. Many communities will set up DACA group processing events, which will hopefully help a lot of pro se DREAMers (those not officially represented by an attorney) who have simple cases. But if your DACA case is complex, or you think you qualify for something other than just DACA, find expert help before trying that process on your own.
There are two common ways to find an immigration attorney or accredited representative to meet your needs:
Non-Profit Legal Service Agencies
Immigration non-profit agencies offer low-cost help to community members. Many non-profit agencies do some full-service help, but cannot meet all of the demand, so also offer limited-scope or advice and brief service support. The areas of immigration law in which they practice and the time available to update individual clients may mean waitlists for potential clients or periods not everyone can get help from their local nonprofit. A local immigration non-profit agency may only serve clients from specific counties, may not represent clients who are in removal (deportation) proceedings. Still, they are often a lot cheaper than a private immigration attorney and their services are probably not motivated by a need to get paid by you to support their practice. Many nonprofits have staff members that are experts in their fields or sub-focus, so they are definitely a great resource to try to access.
Private immigration attorneys commonly often offer a broader range of general immigration assistance than nonprofit and have more time to discuss and update their clients on their specific cases. For example, a private immigration attorney might be more knowledgeable about employment-based options for undocumented individuals than a nonprofit that works exclusively with survivors of violence and the private attorney may be available to answer any questions via e-mail and/or phone. Non-profit agencies often have an inherent trust within the community, including former clients on their board of directors, but you may have to research a private immigration attorney’s background before hiring him or her (see below for Five Tips to Obtaining a Good Private Immigration Attorney). Moreover, private immigration attorneys commonly offer their services at a higher price than non-profit agencies.
Five Tips to Obtaining a Good Private Immigration Attorney
If you're going to hire a private immigration attorney, do some research. Below are five tips to finding a good private immigration attorney, brought to you by About.com.
Get references. Ask family, friends or colleagues if they know any immigration lawyers. Even if they haven't been through immigration themselves, they may be able to connect you with someone they know who has retained the services of an immigration lawyer. People are quick to recommend a good lawyer and even quicker to name a poor one, which can be a great help when you're beginning your search.
Search AILA. Search for a lawyer on the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) website. AILA is a national association of lawyers and attorneys who teach and practice immigration law, so you can be reasonably certain you're dealing with someone who understands immigration law and policies. If you're starting your research from scratch, you can search for a lawyer in your area. If you've been given the names of a few lawyers, you can look them up to see if they are members. While membership in AILA is not a requirement to practice immigration law, membership can be a good indication of a lawyer's level of commitment to the practice.
Interview your short list. Interview potential lawyers to find one who matches your needs. Ask them if they have any experience with your type of case. Immigration law is a huge specialty, so you'll want a lawyer who is familiar with your type of case. If the lawyers provide client references, use the contacts to get a better understanding of the lawyers' work styles.
Compare fee schedules. Some lawyers bill by the hour while others charge a flat fee. Ask if there might be additional costs such as postage, courier fees or long distance charges.
Check credentials. When you're sure you've find a lawyer you feel comfortable with, there's only one thing left to do before you sign a contract for services. Contact your local state bar to find out if your lawyer is licensed and in good standing, and if he or she has ever been subject to disciplinary action.