Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Here’s what an immigration attorney does (as well as what we don’t do)

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With much of the nation’s attention focusing so heavily on President Trump’s new Executive Order around refugees, we figured it might be helpful to know more about how our immigration legal program operates.

Immigration attorneys are always working to keep up with the latest changes to immigration law – because new laws or special statuses are often granted based on what’s happening in the world. We do not do criminal or civil law outside of immigration status cases.

It's pretty simple what we do: we help people apply for immigration statuses they are eligible for and educate the community on the latest immigration laws. When we believe someone has a legitimate case for an immigration status, one of our staff attorneys helps them through the process.

We don’t work with refugees per se in this program, since refugees are granted a permanent legal status in the United States before they arrive. However, we can help advise those who have a temporary status such as a work visa or green card, as well as those who would like to become a US citizen. 

Immigration attorneys work with people who have a legal status as well as those who do not.
Many of our clients come to us seeking help reuniting with family. America has long been a nation who provides special protective statuses to victims of war, violence, and persecution. But rarely are those persons able to uproot and bring their entire family. Many people come to us seeking ways to reunite with their family, who may have gone into hiding in their home country.
Other clients do not have a legal status – many came here and declared asylum. In these cases, having an immigration attorney is critically important to help determine if a client has a real case for asylum. Which brings us to our next point…

Immigration attorneys help immigration judges in their work.
You might think this sounds counter-intuitive. But considering how chaotic many refugees and asylees lives are before they flee their country, it can be very challenging for them to gather all of the basic documentation that backs up an immigrants claim. And since many are very unfamiliar with the American legal system and many have only a basic grasp of English, it can be daunting for them to try and make their case alone. Immigration attorneys are critical to gathering these evidence and proof of their claims, organizing them, and presenting them to a judge so that he or she can make an informed ruling. With our immigration system is badly overwhelmed right now, this is a critical service to help judges.

We only take cases where a client has a chance at success.
Due to the overwhelming need of people seeking an immigration status, we hold weekly in-take consultations where anyone can meet with an attorney and see if they or their family are eligible to apply.

Still, we only take on cases where the person has a reasonable path to a legal status. Much of our job is about helping someone tell their story with proof. So many people come to our community having faced incredible heartbreak, pain, and loss.

I want to get more involved in helping. What can I do?
We always need donations to help maintain our program. You can make a donation directly to the immigration legal services program here. We do ask many of our clients to pay a one-time fee of $80 at consultation (this fee is waived for a number of clients thanks to grant funding), but so much more of our work is funded by donations -- nearly 2/3 annually!

If you are an attorney who is interested in volunteering, we can use your help! Contact Jim Feroli at (202) 772-4356 or James.Feroli@CC-DC.org. 

If you aren’t an attorney and you want to do more, help spread the word about our services. Many of the people who need our services are highly exposed to being victims of fraud. Make sure they see an immigration attorney – they can reach us at 202-772-4352 or by visiting www.CatholicCharitiesDC.org/ILS

If you want to volunteer and you aren't an attorney, check for opportunities on our main volunteer page.