Immigration law is a unique field. It is hard to imagine anything more important to a client’s life and future than the basic decision of whether he can or cannot remain in the United States. Yet, more than most other fields of law, immigration law is dominated by a number of myths. These myths are not only incorrect, but dangerous to our clients’ futures.
The following are five of the most common myths I encounter in my immigration practice:
Myth #1: Immigration law is just form-filling. Anyone can do it.
Much of immigration law is form-based, but “doing it yourself” or through an unqualified person is not a good idea. Immigration “forms” are similar to standard pleadings in litigation – they are designed to provide basic information to the ultimate decision-maker. No lawyer would tell a client to simply fill out form pleadings and litigate a case on her own if anything serious were at stake. Why? Because the essence of what we do as attorneys is advocacy – shaping and presenting the facts of our client’s case in the best possible light to influence a decision-maker to rule in the client’s favor. Immigration law is no different. Anyone who considers immigration law as mere “form-filling” doesn’t understand how the system works, or the seriousness of the issues at stake.
Myth #2: Just marry a U.S. citizen, and all is forgiven.
As an immigration lawyer, I counsel many couples who believe this particular myth. Unfortunately, it is not true. While there are certain circumstances where a legitimate marriage to a U.S. citizen can lead to immigration benefits, often there are other hurdles that stand in the way. These obstacles can include prior unlawful entry, criminal convictions, and previous immigration problems. Any couple in a “cross-status” relationship should consult an immigration attorney to get a clear picture of their situation and the challenges they will face before submitting any applications or petitions.
Myth #3: Only bad people get deported. Good people don’t.
Immigration law is statute-based. Unless an exception is articulated in the governing statue, or is grounded in governing agency decisions, the question of whether a non-citizen facing deportation is a “good person” often does not matter. Immigration judges have limited discretion, and that leeway has been considerably tightened in recent years. While it is a safe rule of thumb to say that “bad people” (i.e. people with criminal records) are more likely to be deported, the fact that an undocumented alien is a “good person” may not be enough to keep them from being removed.
Myth #4: All you need is a “sponsor” to get work permission or a green card.
I hear this myth most often from employers, who believe that they only need to “sponsor” their undocumented employees for those persons to receive residence and work permission. The truth is far different. In order for an employer to hire a foreign worker, the employer must demonstrate that no suitable U.S. worker is locally available and that the foreign worker they wish to hire is appropriately qualified for the position. Even when these factors are true, the employer usually cannot hire someone who is currently in the United States without authorization. Many employers are surprised to learn that there is no way to “legally” hire a person who has been a trusted employee for many years. In these situations, I usually advise the employer to contact his Congressman and express his dissatisfaction with the current state of our immigration law.
Myth #5: If you’ve been here long enough, you can’t be deported.
A person who is a lawful permanent resident (“green card”) does not have the same rights and protections as a citizen. If a green card holder violates the rules governing his or her status (for example, by conviction of certain criminal offenses), he or she can be deported regardless of length of residence. Likewise, a person who is in the United States without documentation is usually subject to deportation, no matter how long the person has been here. While immigration prosecutors have a certain amount of discretion in deciding who is subject to removal proceedings, the law generally does not contain exceptions based on mere length of presence.
Lawyers are not expected to be experts in all areas of law. However, it is our responsibility as professionals to recognize our clients’ needs and help them find appropriate assistance. Clients who base their important life decisions on the above myths place their future and the futures of their family members at risk. When immigration issues arise, advise your clients to see appropriate help. Don’t leave them to “go it alone.” Our clients deserve nothing less – and, as attorneys, we expect nothing less from ourselves.