How to Avoid Mistakes While Representing Yourself in Immigration Court
Author: New York Immigration lawyer
You ended up in Immigration court and do not know what to do…
The easy answer to this situation would be “hire an attorney!”, but sometimes an individual cannot afford an attorney, or believes that the first portion of a case can be done pro-se to reduce attorney’s fees.
First, if you cannot afford an attorney, try your best to find a low-bono or a pro-bono one. Some non-for profit organizations are offering free legal services, and local bar associations cab direct you to the pro-bono lawyers in the area. Also, law schools have legal clinics that take different type of matters and can help you as well.
However, if you are “stuck” by yourself, here are some tips.
- Stay away from FRAUD. As tempting as it can sound, or as persuasive as an “uncle” promised it to be, lying on Immigration applications and in Immigration court is never a good idea. It does not mean that you cannot advocate on your own behalf, explaining the impact of certain events and providing your point of view and research, let’s say, on country conditions. But, stating something that you know is not true, for purpose of obtaining Immigration benefits will make you permanently inadmissible into the United States.
- Read available memos, cases and practices and procedures. It is not easy, but it is not a rocket science. Start with the Immigration Practice Manual which outlines the basics of Immigration court procedures. Some non-for –profits publish excellent resources on various topics, such as U visas, VAWA, asylum, Cancellation or Removal… Those resources are available on Google and are free!
- Another common error encountered when dealing with former pro- se clients, is that they give too much information in there affidavits in support of their claims (If they submit one to begin with). The old saying, keep it simple goes a long way for affidavits. Focus on the reason you are writing the affidavit: if it is submitted, to prove a bona fide marriage write about your relationship and how it developed. It is always better to be concise and allow for later expansion of your testimony.
- At last, remember that each and every word is transcribed. Speak clearly and think before answering questions. Refrain from any type of vulgarity, and show respect to the judge who ultimately decides whether or not you are going to stay in the U.S, and the prosecutor. When you speak before the court, or to the prosecutor, your words have value. Trying to exemplify your knowledge of the English language is helpful at times to show the Judge you have a desire to learn the language of the country, but if you are not sure of the definitions of your words you are using, refrain from using them. One such example, is the word “moot”: the definition of the word in the Webster’s dictionary differs significantly from the meaning the courts give to this word, and without knowing it, one may misunderstand the entire proceedings.
And now, some practical tips:
- When you use ASYLUM as defense from removal, after you are asked to designate a country to be removed to in the event of denial of your case, you should respectfully decline to do so. The idea is that there is no country in the world where you feel safe, and hence, you do not wish to be removed to any country.
- Make sure your documents are filed on time, preferably before the deadline or a “call up date”.
- Check the status of your fingerprints: if possible, ask to expedite the clearance, and make sure nothing on your end is holding up the process.
- If you filed your asylum application with the Court and not USCIS, you must follow special procedure for ordering your own fingerprints by filing first three pages of I-589, and a copy of the instructions with USCIS. This is the only time fingerprints are not automatically ordered for you, but without this clearance, your application for asylum with the Immigration court might be denied.