Without an Immigration Lawyer, the Path to Citizenship is a Maze in Florida

The immigration game should not be taken lightly

By Carlos Harrison | Last updated on August 24, 2022

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Navigating the complicated maze of U.S. immigration regulations can be an all-or-nothing game.

“You either win or you lose. There is no in-between. There is no plea bargaining,” says Anis Saleh, head of Saleh & Associates, P.A., and past-president of the South Florida chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

“If you make a mistake, you could screw up the rest of your life.”

The Immigration Process

Sure, the government offers forms people can fill out themselves to apply for everything from green cards and employment authorizations to temporary protected status and U.S. citizenship. However, while applying directly with the government online or in person may seem to offer convenience and save money in the short term, Saleh says, it’s important to remember that “the U.S. government and immigration service don’t represent you. It isn’t always looking out for your best interest. …  Yes, you can fill out your own form and you can send it in and you can get it through. But there are a lot of cases where you do need a lawyer.”

Sadly, desperation or unfamiliarity with U.S. laws has made many people easy prey for unscrupulous “notarios” promising to resolve immigration issues. They may claim to be attorneys or legal assistants as they soak their victims for thousands, or even tens of thousands, of dollars. And they might make matters worse.

“In many cases, the work performed by such individuals results in missed deadlines, the filing of incorrect or incomplete forms, or the filing of false claims with the government,” according to the American Bar Association’s Fight Notario Fraud project website. 

“As a result of the advice or actions of such individuals, an immigrant can miss opportunities to obtain legal residency, can be unnecessarily deported, or can be subject to civil and/or criminal liability for the filing of false claims,” the site warns. 

What to Look for in an Immigration Law Firm

A qualified immigration attorney can assist in determining the basis for an application. Some may be able to apply under a family-based option, either as the spouse or child of a U.S. citizen, permanent resident or a legally authorized refugee. Others may fall under student or employment-based options. Then there are the refugee asylum cases, for those fleeing persecution in their home countries.

“Until a person checks with an attorney, they can’t know if something can be done or not,” says attorney John Pratt, a partner at Kurzban Kurzban Weinger Tetzeli & Pratt P.A., who appears frequently to discuss immigration matters on Telemundo’s “Un Nuevo Dia.”

Whatever the circumstance, it’s critical to file the correct application.

“With the immigration system the way it is, you have to always put the round peg in the round hole; otherwise you’re not going to succeed,” says Jeffrey Brauwerman, a former U.S. immigration judge and chief legal officer for the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s Miami office and regional counsel for the IMS, now representing clients in private practice at Shane, Shane & Brauwerman in Ft. Lauderdale.

To do that, he says, “We have to do a whole pedigree workup. Everything from who their family is—because they could become a citizen automatically under the law without anything else, based on whether one or both parents were U.S. citizens at the time of the [birth]. We have to know their whole immigration background; whether or not they’ve been here before. If so, what type of visa did they have, or did they enter in an unauthorized state. We have to know if they’ve had any involvement with the criminal justice system.”

Honesty is key. People can hurt their cases by concealing information from an attorney, only to have it uncovered by the government.

“They think that by hiding certain things they’re never going to surface,” says Saleh, “and in this day and age you really can’t hide much.”

Plus, there’s no need to avoid being completely open.

“By law, what you tell your attorney is private/confidential between you and your attorney,” says Pratt, “because your attorney doesn’t work for the government. He has nothing to do with them.”

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