Do I even need a lawyer?

I get this questions occasionally-- especially from savvy foreign nationals looking to apply for adjustment of status or citizenship. To many, I give my honest opinion: you may be alright on your own. You have a simple immigration history with no arrests, or other 'red-flags.' You're intelligent and responsible. You very well may get through the system on your own. 

But do you really want worry about a messed up box on form I-485, Application to Adjust Status? Or lose sleep worrying if you filed out right your joint-sponsor's I-864, Affidavit of Support? And when your run into trouble, or doubt do you know where to turn? For those that go-it alone, stay away from the online immigration forums--or well, don't take anything on them as gospel.

Immigration forums can be tool for learning basic immigration procedure. But as a lawyer, I get nauseous with anxiety reading many flat wrong things posted. Here's an example of a common issue faced by young couples I came across on a popular forum:

My Fiancé and I finished filling out our K1 forms and were prepared to send them in when we recently found out she is pregnant!  Due to the pregnancy, and family traditions we want to move our wedding date sooner.  We are concerned about submitting a K1 fiancé visa and getting married before it is approved.

Great question with serious consequences for this couple. What's her next step? What application does she need to file? A forum member jump's in with the visa category she should seek. 

You can always get married and then file for the CR-1 visa. Takes longer to process, but at least you'll be married.

Point for love--they love each other and want to get married.  Great. Most likely that's the right thing to do, legally speaking.  But CR-1 is not her next legal move. She needs a petition to start herself down the path to permanent residency, either an I-130 Petition for Alien Relatives, if the couple marries, or I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiance, if the couple intends to marry once she enters the US. I don't want to give you the blow by blow of this, at times, gut wrenching thread-- but it needlessly covers a range of complex topics, like visa fraud and advanced parole. Message boards can teach you about the immigration system to a degree, but should not be used in place of a trusted legal adviser.

So should you hire a lawyer? Most good lawyers will give you the ubiquitous answer they give to many seemingly simple questions--it depends. A good lawyer appreciates the risk and uncertainty clients face when making difficult legal choices. A good lawyer can help you confront these challenges informed and with 'eyes wide open.' But if you depend on advice from friends, family, or (gasp) on-line message boards, you may get a definitive answer to a question with more complexity, risk and future consequences than realize. Proceed with caution.  

 

 

 

Useful Immigration Resources

I. US Citizenship and Immigration Services

 

Check your case status online

Check the status of your pending application or petition on-line at myUSCIS--Case Status Online. You will need your case receipt number, which can be found at the top of most application or petition notices. Here's an example of where to find your receipt number on a biometrics appointment notice.

NEW Minneapolis-St. Paul US Citizenship and Immigration Services Field Office

250 Marquette Avenue
Suite 710
Minneapolis, MN 55401

 

II. Immigration Court (Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR))

 

EOIR 1-800 number

If you need to know the date of your next immigration hearing, or whether you've been ordered removed (deported) by an immigration judge in the past, the court maintains a helpful 1-800 number. You will need to give your Alien Registration number-- which can be found on hearing notices and documents (including employment authorization cards and permanent resident cards) issued by US immigration authorities. The nine digit number is usually preceded by "A#" or "USCIS #."  Call 1-800-898-7180 (toll-free) to obtain case status information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

 

PREPARING FOR YOUR HEARING

Plan to arrive well in advance of your scheduled hearing, ideally between 30 to 60 minutes. Generally, to gain access to the court building, you will need to provide a valid photo-ID. Talk to your lawyer before if you do not have an ID. Be sure to bring your Immigration Court hearing notice. 

You will need to pass through security--including a metal detector and x-ray machine. It goes without saying, but do not bring any knifes, guns or weapons to your appointment. Prohibited items include metal nail files, scissors, and small pocket knifes. When in doubt, leave it at home. 

DO NOT miss your hearing. If you fail to attend your hearing, even if you call the court to let them know, you will be ordered removed (deported) by an immigration judge in absentia.

 

Immigration Court Address

Bloomington, Minnesota Immigration Court, Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR)

Bishop Henry Whipple Federal Bldg. 
1 Federal Drive, Suite 1850
Fort Snelling, MN 55111

Phone: 612-725-3765

For location of other US Immigration Courts, please visit the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) on-line

 

III. POSTING AN IMMIGRATION BOND

 

Bonds need to be in money order, or cashiers check for the exact amount of the bond. Checks should be made out to "Immigration and Customs Enforcement." Those posting a bond, should have a valid ID, along with the name, address and phone number of the person they are posting the bond for. Be prepared to wait. Processing a bond frequently takes hours.

To post a bond for those held in Minnesota, visit: 

ICE, Enforcement and Removal Operations                                                                         
1 Federal Drive, Suite 1601
Fort Snelling, MN, 55111
Phone: (612) 843-8600

Bonds are accepted between the hours of 7:30 AM and 3:00 PM. Starting May 15, 2017, ICE will no longer accept bonds after 2 p.m. ICE will make efforts to accept bonds after 2 p.m. in special circumstances only.  

Use of E-Bonds is encouraged but not required.