As an immigration attorney, I spend a lot of time with people who have experienced significant hardships in their lives – anything from heartbreak to abuse to torture. But I want to draw attention to the misfortune of those immigrants who select an unscrupulous attorney. I’m not talking about attorneys who make minor mistakes or misjudgments — we are human, after all — but those shameless individuals who take money from desperate people, misadvise them, and put them on a guaranteed track towards deportation.
I spent the morning with someone who paid thousands of dollars to an immigration attorney to apply for a form of relief for which they were clearly ineligible. After many years in the U.S., with several U.S. citizen children, this person is now facing removal proceedings — an uphill battle in the best of circumstances. Sometimes there is a strategic reason to get someone in front of an immigration judge — with the knowledge and consent of the client — but imagine this person’s surprise when they found out just today that: (1) they were never, and will never be, eligible for the relief filed on their behalf and (2) the attorney they had hired has been suspended from the practice of law for the past couple of years!
For this particular situation, after getting through the shock and tears, we are exploring the relief for which this person may be eligible in immigration court. But, especially in this time when immigrants are one of the most vulnerable groups of people in the U.S., here are some takeaways and reminders:
- All attorneys in the U.S. are licensed by at least one State Bar, meaning that they had to pass a bar exam, go through the licensing process, renew their license annually, and remain in good standing with their bar association (i.e., not be subject to disciplinary actions or a court order restricting their license).
- Because immigration law is federal law (versus state law), an immigration attorney can be licensed in any U.S. state — and they are not necessarily licensed in the state in which they practice.
- All State Bar associations allow you to look up an attorney to find their contact information and check if they are, or have been, subject to any disciplinary proceedings. For example, in California: http://members.calbar.ca.gov/fal/MemberSearch/QuickSearch. Not sure in which state an attorney is licensed? Ask them (most attorneys proudly display their degrees, court admissions, and certificates all over the place!). Or search the internet — usually, this information is readily available.
- While not attorneys, “BIA accredited representatives” are individuals approved by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) to advise and represent clients before USCIS and, sometimes, the immigration courts and the BIA, in their capacity as an employee of a specific nonprofit or similar organization. Immigration consultants, paralegals, notaries and notarios do not fall into this category – they cannot give legal advice or represent clients. The status of a BIA accredited representative can be checked here: https://www.justice.gov/eoir/page/file/942311/download.
Finally, trust your gut! I can’t emphasize this last point enough — there is no one specific indicator, but I often hear clients say that “something just felt off.” For example, if an attorney guarantees success in your case (there are no guarantees in immigration law!), refuses to accept any form of payment besides cash, refuses to provide receipts or a fee agreement, doesn’t want you to write their name on a check, or encourages you to lie about facts in your case, I would recommend consulting with another attorney. In fact, it’s rarely a bad idea to get a second opinion in any immigration case.
This blog does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you need legal advice, please contact an attorney directly.