Many people had relative petitions filed for them by family members (such as spouse, parent, brother, sister, etc.). After waiting anxiously for several years (sometimes over a decade), the priority date finally becomes current, and they are called by USCIS for their adjustment of status interview. They may think to themselves that because they filed the Petition on their own, they can handle the interview themselves and save money, by not having an attorney with them for their adjustment of status interview.
However, filing a petition and getting it approved is relatively simple, compared to an in-person interview. After all, with a petition, you fill out the form, include supporting documentation, and mail it away to the USCIS. You then receive an Approval Notice from the USCIS in the mail, without ever seeing any Immigration Officer in person.
An adjustment of status interview puts you in an entirely different situation. This may now be the first time that you come face-to-face with an Immigration Officer. At your interview, you may be questioned in detail about your case or petition. This could include the facts about how you entered the U.S. (i.e. under a different name or date of birth), what you have been doing in the U.S. all these years (i.e. have you been working without authorization?), whether you ever applied for any other immigration benefit during that time (i.e. Political Asylum, CSS/LULAC, etc.)
The documents that you submitted when you first filed the petition, as well as the documents you bring to the interview, will be examined carefully by the Immigration Officer, who is highly trained to spot and detect fraudulent documents, such as fake birth certificates, employment letters, tax returns, etc.
Although Officers conducting interviews are courteous, professional, and fair, you could really mess up your case if you don’t bring the proper or complete documentation, don't provide correct information, start contradicting yourself, start giving evasive answers because you’re confused, tired, or scared. Even if you’re “innocent”, it may look like you are trying to hide something or you are lying (even when you're telling the truth). This could create suspicion in the mind of the Officer. So, even though you may be legitimately entitled to the immigration benefit being sought, you could find yourself being put under investigation, or even having your case denied.
A lot of times people think to themselves, “I'll just go to the interview by myself, so I can save money, and if things get messed up, then I can always go to an attorney”. But, if you messed up the case, it makes it all the more difficult and costly (and your case gets delayed), as more time is needed to repair the damage! And you may mess up the case so bad, by saying the wrong things that the case may be beyond repair.
I know some people tell themselves, “If I bring along an attorney, the USCIS may think I have done something wrong, I have something to hide, or I am guilty”. This is a myth. If you are legitimately entitled to the immigration benefit you are seeking, then having an attorney assist you in preparing your case in advance and accompanying you to the interview, increases the chances of your case being properly analyzed and properly presented to the Immigration Officer. It is not a sign of “guilt”.
There are many good reasons for people to be accompanied by an attorney to an interview or hearing. These reasons become even more critical with the expiration of Section 245(i). Now, there might be no “second chance” for most people, if the petition they waited for so many years is denied. What will they have to fall back on, if this happens?
In a future article, I will discuss some of the reasons why it is a good idea to have an attorney help and represent you.
Michael J. Gurfinkel has been an attorney for over 25 years, and is an active member of the State Bar of California and New York, as well as the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the Immigration Section of the Los Angeles County Bar Association. He has always excelled in school: Valedictorian in High School; Cum Laude at UCLA; and Law Degree Honors and academic scholar at Loyola Law School, which is one of the top law schools in California.
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(This is for informational purposes only, and reflects the firm's opinions and views on general issues. Each case is different and results may depend on the facts of a particular case. All immigration services are provided by an active member of the State Bar of California and/or by a person under the supervision of an active member of the State Bar. No prediction, warranty or guarantee can be made about the results of any case. Should you need or want legal advice, you should consult with and retain counsel of your own choice.)