Volume 19, Number 7
By Frank E. Martínez
Want to meet interesting people from faraway places? Practicing immigration law can provide the opportunity, but it is not without its price. Immigration is a dynamic field involving fast-changing law, politics, and policy-and as if that's not complex enough, cases often involve working from the ultimate goal.
Often, a caller's initial contact is made seeking information, not necessarily representation. Here the immigration lawyer gets to practice one of the most essential skills: listening. This gives you the opportunity to home in on the actual situation the caller is facing: What is their present immigration status? When did they last enter the United States? Are they now in the United States? How long a period of stay is authorized? Are they working? Sometimes, after simply listening, you might decline representation then or, depending on the extent of any later discussion that took place, send the caller a nonengagement letter as well.
One of the immigration lawyer's biggest challenges is staying well informed. Immigration is a field that touches on interpretations of not only the Immigration and Nationality Act (especially 8 CFR § 299, immigration, and § 499, nationality) but also Immigration and Naturalization Service regulations, Department of State policy, labor laws, practices at U.S. consulates, corporate law, criminal law, family law, and tax law. Knowing where to turn for answers can be confusing.
Fortunately, today's practitioner has the Internet at hand. Because immigration concerns federal administrative law, most agencies you will deal with have websites, from the obvious, like the INS and Department of State, to the less obvious, such as the U.S. consulate from Luanda, Angola, to the U.S. Embassy in Harare, Zimbabwe. (See the sidebar on the next page for additional suggestions.) These sites give you ready access not only to the law but also to current conditions and indicators of shifts in policy. Often, you may be able to anticipate how rising issues may impact your specific case.
What shouldn't you do? Assuming facts is perilous because immigration is so strongly fact driven. What happened, who it happened to, when it happened, and how and why it happened are all questions you need to ask. Assuming a fact can be fatal because it may change your advice or preparation. A simple example: A client enters the United States and wants to stay with his U.S.-citizen spouse. If you assume the client was admitted with a visa after inspection, you report that he will be able to complete immigrant visa processing here in the United States. However, he came in without a visa or somehow entered without being inspected at a port of entry. Although the client will still benefit from a spousal petition, he will need to visa process at a U.S. consulate in their home country-a costlier process. Additionally, if the client has been here more than 180 days, reentry to the United States is barred for a period of three years, triggered after leaving.
Similarly, guessing at outcomes should be done cautiously. Explore possible resolutions, even if just to discount them, but don't burden your client with all the possible results. Remember that immigration is a confusing process that can create needless anxiety-and, in the end, clients often haven't retained crucial details anyway. When you present options to your client, explain each one in turn, with the pros and cons. Remember, the client decides where to go; it's our job to get them there as best we can.
Lastly, remember that turning to an experienced immigration lawyer for advice or a formal consultation is always an option, as is asking them to associate on a case. Check with the American Immigration Lawyers Association for additional information, www.aila.org.
o www.ins.gov. Immigration and Naturalization Service, with forms and a helpful "How do I…" section.
o www.ins.usdoj.gov/graphics/lawsregs/index.htm. Laws, regulations, and guides controlling immigration.
o www.gpo.gov/su_docs. Links to the Federal Register and Code of Federal Regulations.
o www.state.gov. Department of State.
o www.dol.gov. Department of Labor.
o www.usdoj.gov/eoir. Immigration trial courts that decide cases involving detained aliens, criminal aliens, and some aliens seeking asylum.
o www.usdoj.gov/eoir/biainfo.htm. The highest administrative body for interpreting and applying immigration laws.
o www.travel.state.gov/links.html. Links to U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide.
Frank E. Martínez is a sole practitioner in Atlanta, Georgia, who appears regularly on Leyes Cotidianas, a public service program in Georgia detailing issues of law for the Spanish-speaking community. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.