Should I ask Immigration or an Immigration Lawyer?

Attorney Nicolas A. Olano

One of the most common errors that lead to problems with immigration client’s cases is that, at some point, they got their advice “directly” from USCIS, ICE or EOIR.  These three (Immigration, Immigration Police and Immigration Judges) are government agencies, they are not there to provide advice to the public on their immigration process.  It seems that the access that USCIS provides to its applications and the streamlining they have created is confused with an obligation for it to provide legal advice to its customers – the public.  This could not be further from the truth.  I am going to provide an example that will hopefully clarify this point.  You have just stolen a million dollars, but you are not sure how long the police can go after you for the crime – after how many years will you not be prosecuted for the crime.  So, after five years you walk into a police station and asked the police officer at the front desk that says “information” about your “case.”  What do you think will happen?  Well, most people do not realize this but when they walk into immigration and start asking questions about their particular situations they are placing themselves at risk of 1) getting detained, 2) having their case affected negatively and 3) simply getting the wrong advice.  And, please, do not blame this on a negative “animus” against immigrants or something like it.  For immigration, just like the police officer, if someone who broke the law shows up they may have to detain them.  Also, like the police officer, immigration must keep a record of when your case was accessed and any information you provided – why wouldn’t they?  Finally, immigration officers are there to provide information about what is happening with your case, not provide you with legal advice on your case.  Therefore, it is not rare to see that a client has received incorrect advice from an officer that either does not have the experience or has a different legal position regarding your client’s case.  So, next time you have a question about your case, think twice before going to immigration to ask it.  Is it a question about what is happening with it or is it a legal question about your case?  If it is the first one, by all means ask away.  If it is the second situation, consult with an immigration lawyer about it.

Now, you will ask, how do I know the difference?  If the questions is whether you or someone “can do” something it is a question that must apply immigration law to specific facts.  It is a legal question.  If it is “how” to do something it is generally not a legal question if no facts are applied.  The problem is that ALL situations are different and that difference in the facts is going to require you to apply the law – again a legal issue.  Finally, if the question is what is happening with my case, why is it taking so long, where is it being processed, etc… then immigration is a place where this can be found out.  Remember there are online resources that you can use to find the situation of your case and other particulars that may help you.  For example, you can go here to find about your case:  CASE STATUS INFORMATION.  In short, if you are not sure of whether the question is one to take to a lawyer, err on the side of caution and call a lawyer experience with immigration matters.