Do I need an immigration lawyer?

by Jeannine Sherman
Thursday, July 28, 2022

Yes. The short answer is yes.  

Better safe than sorry. You can waste so much time and money, making small mistakes that an attorney may be able to help you avoid.  

Muslim Legal Fund of America funds the Constitutional Law Center for Muslims in America (CLCMA). Their Immigration Department Head Kathryn Brady often laments the tiny errors that led to five- or even ten-year detours in the path to permanent residence and/or citizenship. When we receive an immigration case, it’s often more complex than it had to be because of preventable mistakes. Investing a reasonable amount of money early on to hire an experienced, licensed immigration lawyer can save you a lot of resources and heartache down the road.  

Think of it as preventive legal health. Rather than waiting to have a big problem, invest in your legal health by paying for an immigration lawyer when you apply for permanent residence or citizenship.  

Does having an attorney make me look guilty? 

Definitely not.  

People seek legal help for all kinds of reasons that have nothing to do with being accused of a crime. You may not even realize an attorney has been involved in the background of common events like when you bought or sold a house.  An attorney can also help you get through a complicated government process (like immigration!) more smoothly.  

But I can’t afford to hire an attorney.  

I understand why you might think that. People think lawyers are always expensive. The last time I contacted a lawyer, she wanted me to put at least $5,000 in retainer just to get started on my case.  

Immigration legal services can be a little bit different. This is because many attorneys charge a set or “flat fee” for cases when they think the amount of time it will take then to work on a case is predictable. For example, the cost of hiring an attorney to represent you for  a U.S. citizenship application may be as low as $1,000 plus the filing fee to the government. It’s not exactly cheap, but it’s not as bad as you might think, especially if it saves you 5-10 years of limbo. 

Hiring a lawyer can be like hiring a plumber if your bathtub is leaking. It may be a struggle to come up with the money in the moment, but you realize that calling someone with experience will save you trouble and loss down the road. In other arenas, we generally accept that we may need to hire an expert, like hiring a mechanic to fix your car or even hiring a language tutor for your child. Immigration law is complex and often requires that particular legal specialization to be done right the first time. 

It’s okay. I know somebody who did their own immigration case who will tell me what’s right.  

It’s just filling out paperwork, right? Not necessarily. Here’s one example from our cases: Hemza Lefsih spent 30 months in federal custody because he misunderstood a question related to traffic violations on the U.S. citizenship application. His mistake was unintentional but costly– immigration can be a particularly messy and unfair process. There’s a lot more at stake than you might think. 

Unless the helper you know is an experienced immigration lawyer, it’s probably still worth seeking legal advice.

Can CLCMA handle my immigration paperwork for free? 

We do work on cases without any cost to the client, but the cases we represent are very specific to the organization’s mission to combat discrimination and civil rights violations. However, as you can imagine, we get a LOT of requests for help with general immigration cases. Most of the immigration cases we currently accept have already been delayed or rejected for five years or more. Sometimes the delay is 20 years. Here’s one example of how long it can take: Imam Sait Zekiri spent more than 20 years in limbo before finally becoming a U.S. citizen.   

Hiring and paying for your own experienced immigration attorney early in the process doesn’t guarantee that everything will go smoothly. But it does help you avoid some of the traps and find a less painful path forward, without so much worry and uncertainty. If your immigration case has been stuck in the process for more than five years and you feel like the government is discriminating against you because of your race, religion, or national origin, you can certainly reach out to us.  

So what does MLFA do? 

Muslim Legal Fund of America (MLFA) funds the legal work of CLCMA and other nonprofit organizations to develop programs to defend against injustice where it is in the interest of the greater Muslim community.  

  • We defend civil rights and liberties.  
  • We work on national security law. 
  • We promote legal compliance as a preventive measure for other nonprofits.  
  • We work on preventive educational programs to empower Muslims in the United States. 

When it comes to immigration law specifically, we represent individuals in complicated immigration administrative cases, immigration appeals, and federal court, when we have reason to believe that our clients are being treated unfairly in violation of the U.S. Constitution. These cases often involve complex factual and legal questions of national security, and we select cases that demonstrate a broader impact on the Muslim community at large. 

We work on something called impact litigation. Impact litigation is all about changing laws and policies, not only working through an individual situation. Our attorneys work together to see the bigger picture and discuss strategic ways of achieving long-term successes for the Muslim community.  

Here’s my two cents.  

I want to help you find ways to get through the immigration system more easily. That doesn’t mean that I support the policies or structures in place by any means – far from it. Personally, I believe that people should be able to travel and live wherever they want to live, as long as they are not actively or directly harming anyone else. I wish I heard this more often. 

I believe in the abundance that comes from Allah. I believe our current immigration policies and laws are based on the idea that there’s not enough to go around. I don’t believe in scarcity as a policy or a mindset. As Muslims and as decent human beings, I think we can go beyond that petty, small-minded approach.  

In verse 4:97 of the Quran, Allah tells us that the earth is “spacious enough”. We don’t need to be greedy or territorial. It’s safe to share what we have, and Allah often gives us more than what we need. The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, tells us that the entire earth is a place to pray (Bukhari 438). There are forces that try to control people and put them down. But we don’t have to fully believe in them, just navigate them to the best of our ability, with Allah’s help. 

As far as I’m concerned, you and yours are welcome here. May Allah make it easy. May you find your way with Allah’s blessings. 

 

Sources

Lawyers and Legal Advice | USAGov 

How much does an immigration lawyer cost? | Fee Guide (askellis.com)

Immigration – CLCMA 

Litigation: Impact | Harvard Law School 

Reflection No. 213 on Q 39:10 – The Spacious Earth – The Academy for Learning Islam (academyofislam.com)