Immigration Lawyers, Accredited Representatives, and Paralegals
The first thing to know about immigration lawyers (also referred to as "immigration attorneys") is that the title, in itself, is meaningless since any lawyer who is a member of any state bar in the United States can claim to be an "Immigration Attorney" -- even if the lawyer has never studied and knows nothing about immigration law.
However, there are extremely experienced and well-qualified immigration attorneys who have extensive experience in defending clients in immigration court and in filing appeals in federal courts. There are situations--especially for clients facing deportation in immigration court-where it may be worthwhile raising the money to hire one of these expert lawyers if a defendant has a difficult, but not impossible-to-win case. (When there is a strong case, the services of a pro bono lawyer may be sufficient.)
IMPORTA belongs the the Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Network (CLINIC) which has a staff of 16 experienced immigration attorneys available to help our Accredited Representatives with complicated cases.
It is extremely important for an immigrant facing deportation in immigration court to be able to distinguish between mediocre self-styled "immigration attorneys" and truly experienced and highly competent lawyers with extensive training and experience in immigration law and deportation defense. IMPORTA maintains a list of outstanding immigration attorneys with an emphasis on those who are very experienced in deportation defense. Most are located in Los Angeles near the immigration courts. In general, these lawyers' fees will be lower for deportation defense than fees charged by lawyers who must travel long distances to attend court hearings.
Experienced immigration lawyers offer consultations with case analyses for less than $200. We prepare clients facing deportation with in-depth case analyses before referring them to an immigration attorney. This can save the immigrant a great deal of money since many immigration lawyers will ask for a retainer of about $1,000 to do a preliminary investigation before giving an opinion on a complicated case.
Accredited Representatives must undergo 30 hours of formal training in immigration law each year, and Accreditation must be renewed every three years at which time a complete evaluation is made of the accredited representative's training and ethics. Since Accredited Representatives are salaried employees of a non-profit organization they have no monetary incentive to file cases that are questionable or poorly prepared. As mentioned above, IMPORTA's Accredited Representatives frequently consult with the CLINIC legal staff on complicated cases.
Lawyers and Accredited Representatives depend on a competent and dedicated staff of intake specialists and paralegals for success. The work of an immigration paralegal is different in many respects from the work of a normal legal paralegal due to the unique character of immigration law. IMPORTA's immigration paralegals work under the supervision of the Accredited Representative who represents the client in the case. The paralegal is required to gather detailed information from the client (generally in Spanish), ensure that the client gathers needed documents in a timely manner, then provides certified translations of documents in in languages other than English, carefully enter information into application forms, all the while keeping the Accredited Representative advised of all questions and other issues. IMPORTA's paralegals also prepare and submit Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to various agencies of the Department of Homeland Security, take fingerprints for FBI record checks, and check the immigration court for any records of prior proceedings. All of IMPORTA's immigration paralegals are required to take training courses and all are encouraged to develop the experience and training to become Accredited Representatives.
IMPORTA's flat organizational structure, which provides opportunities for all paralegals to achieve Accreditation, helps build the team spirit required for maximum efficiency while serving clients with warmth and understanding.