Finding an immigration lawyer in New York
What you should know
Looking for a lawyer, especially a pro-bono lawyer (free or low cost) is very difficult in New York. Most pro bono lawyers work for a few non-profit organizations which have very good reputations. However, because they are pro bono, they have a lot of demands. The result is that you may not be able to have a meeting with them right away and may be put on a waiting list, which can be very long.
They are also a lot of private immigration lawyers who will charge you for their work. Most immigration lawyers are professional but unfortunately there are some lawyers who are dishonest and think only of making a profit.
We want to explain to you the advantages of having a lawyer (a reputable one) and we will be happy to discuss your various options. We hope that you will also attend our legal workshops to help you make a decision.
We will also caution you on what you should be careful about when you search for a lawyer.
What does a lawyer do for you?
- Your lawyer will spend a lot of time with you to talk about your unique case, review all your documents, and also work with you to decide which other documents you should get as evidence.
- Your lawyer will do extensive research on your country conditions as well as other legal research that can support your asylum claim.
- Your lawyer will identify for you the legal grounds that determine your eligibility for asylum (very important).
Your lawyer will identify if there are any legal complications in your case and what to do about them (even more important).
Your lawyer will establish a legal strategy to represent your asylum claim.
Your lawyer will prepare your asylum application, which will involve not only filling out the questions on the form, but most importantly, preparing the legal argument especially if your case has some complications. Your lawyer will also prepare your statement (story) in a legal way which is very different than just writing down your story.
Your lawyer will spend time with you to prepare for your asylum interview when you get a date. (Usually you will meet several times prior to the interview, along with the interpreter you both have selected, as you will need to bring your own interpreter if you don’t speak English.)
- Your lawyer will come with you on the day of your interview date.
Warning about dishonest lawyers or fake immigration services
If your case is accepted by the main legal non-profit providers (www.rifnyc.org/legal-providers), you have nothing to worry about. If you decide to select a private lawyer, please make sure that you sign a contract with them (and review the contract before you sign). Do your own research about the lawyer and their reputation.
Be careful if a lawyer offers you a low price to represent you but asks you for more money later (all costs should be detailed in the contract).
Aside from lawyers, there are a lot of people or businesses that claim that they can help you with your asylum application. Some are even former asylum seekers who will tell you that they can help you because they have done it themselves. Never believe that, especially if they charge you money for it.
Some will tell you that you can use their story, especially if you come from the same country or faced a similar situation of persecution. Again this would be very dangerous for you to do that. It would be considered as a “false claim” and you will be immediately denied asylum, and possibly deported. There are also many travel/translations/immigration services in your neighborhood that will say that they have the expertise to do asylum applications. This is not correct. Only immigration lawyers and legally accredited representatives can legally represent you.
However, you can also apply by yourself and fill out the application (I-589). You should list who is helping you as the preparer on the form (a translator or other person who helps you fill the application). If the information about the preparer is not correct, it will be held against you, such as by denying asylum. (Please attend a RIF legal workshop if you are a bit confused about this.)
Finally, having a reputable lawyer will increase your chances to win asylum, and this has been proven by many studies. If you are not able to find or afford a lawyer, we would highly suggest that you take your time to think about the best strategy for you.