What services does an asylum lawyer provide?
If you are interested in applying for asylum because you fear returning to your country, hiring an asylum lawyer is one of the most important decisions you will make. An asylum lawyer can help guide you through the very complex and difficult process, and make sure that you put your best case forward.
What exactly does an asylum lawyer do on a day-to-day basis to present an asylum case?
Step one: consultation and assessment
The first step in applying for asylum is meeting with an experienced and competent asylum lawyer so that they can become familiar with the facts in your case. In order to present a viable claim, a non-citizen needs to show, among other things, that they have suffered past persecution or that they have a well-founded fear of future persecution based on one of the five enumerated grounds in the statute: race, religion, political opinion, nationality, or membership in a social group.
One of the most valuable things that a strong immigration asylum lawyer brings to you, the client, is the knowledge of what the law is, and what all of these terms really mean. You may be wondering: What type of harm counts as persecution? Have I suffered enough harm? Does the group I belong to really constitute as a “social group” for asylum purposes? How do I prove that I have converted to another religion? There are also things that the Government may try to bring up to “sink” your case (called “rebuttals”), such as the ability to relocate to another part of your home country, or the fact that your application may not have been filed in a timely fashion.
The team at Lightman Law Firm has been practicing asylum law for over 14 years. We are familiar with the laws and rules regarding asylum, and can give you an honest assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of your case.
What happens after the consultation?
If you hire a competent asylum lawyer, they will begin the process of putting together the lengthy and complicated asylum application. This process involves helping you collect the evidence to prove your case, such as your identity documents, medical records, and evidence that you are in the group you say you belong to. Your asylum lawyer will also help you write the statement that forms the basis of your application. The statement is your chance to tell the Government who you are, what happened to you and/or your family, or what you fear will happen to you if you return.
This is a long and detailed process. It is important to remember that everything that goes into the asylum application becomes part of the record, and so it is key to work with an experienced asylum lawyer, to put your best case forward from the beginning.
Where will my asylum lawyer file all of my paperwork and evidence?
If a person is making an initial application for asylum, and they are not detained, or not yet in front of the Immigration Court, they are making what is called an affirmative application for asylum. This is made with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). If they are already in proceedings, they are filing their application before the Immigration Court. Also, if the case was not granted by the USCIS Asylum Office, the application filed before USCIS is then “renewed” before the Immigration Court.
What about preparation for the Asylum Office interview?
Another very important reason to hire a competent asylum lawyer is that you will be called in to an Asylum Office interview to speak with an Asylum Officer, and hiring an asylum lawyer can help you best prepare for that interview. A good asylum lawyer has experience at these asylum interviews, and will be able to thoroughly prepare you for the kinds of questions that the Asylum Officer may ask you, and also give thoughts on what further documentation you may want to bring with you. The Asylum Office interviews can last several hours, so the importance of being fully prepared for this interview cannot be overstated.
Why can’t I just do this myself?
Unfortunately, there are too many people who try to fill out the application, and collect all the evidence, by themselves, and then think that they will just “try their luck” at the Asylum Office. Their thinking is “if I win, great, and if I don’t, and my case is sent to the Court, then I will hire a lawyer.” They are trying to save money, but they are making a huge mistake. Anything you send to USCIS, and anything you say at the Asylum Office, can be brought up in Court by the Prosecutor or the Judge. It is essential that you work with a licensed and experienced immigration asylum lawyer from the beginning, so you can put your best case forward, and be fully prepared for the Asylum Office interview.
We have seen files put together by clients themselves where the statement that is attached to the application is simply not comprehensible. Also, we have seen where the evidence attached to the application simply does not do much to support the claims made in the application. And sometimes, those doing the application by themselves simply don’t submit any evidence.
Beware of non-lawyers who say they can help you!
Do not be fooled by non-lawyers who offer “legal” services (in some communities, they are called “notarios” or “agents.”) There is nothing “legal” about them. They are not licensed, and so they are not accountable to anyone. Putting your life in their hands is very dangerous. Call a licensed immigration asylum lawyer.
Hiring an asylum lawyer also means that you will have someone who is keeping up-to-date on changes in asylum procedures.
Asylum procedures can change. Currently, there are specific procedures in place to deal with a large backlog of cases that are in the system, and the order in which those cases are heard. It is possible that the number of cases in the backlog may change, meaning that the order of how the government takes the cases could shift. All the more reason to work with a competent and experienced asylum lawyer who has up-to-date information from the immigration authorities. We have a blog posting on recent changes to the asylum procedures, which you can find here.
What if my case is sent to the Immigration Court?
First, take a deep breath. Most cases are not granted by the Asylum Office and get sent to the Immigration Court (the term used is “referred.”) Lightman Law Firm’s asylum lawyer team has many years of experience helping clients in the Immigration Courts.
A seasoned and competent asylum lawyer is essential if you are before the Immigration Court. There is a Judge who presides over the proceedings, and a lawyer for the Government who acts like a prosecutor (they are called a “Trial Attorney.”) The Judge will make a decision on whether you get asylum or get deported to your home country. An asylum lawyer is essential to make sure your case is best defended.
Our team will work with you to supplement the record, if there are updated in your case, to obtain and prepare either fact witnesses or expert witnesses, and then prepare you for the final hearing. Just like the Asylum Office interview, you want to be fully prepared for the kinds of questions that the Government Attorney and Judge may ask you, and what kinds of issues may come up with your case. Working with an asylum lawyer who has spent many hours in the Immigration Court is key.
The Judge may also ask your asylum lawyer to prepare something called a “memorandum of law.” This is a complex and lengthy document in which your lawyer writes out the legal arguments for why you are deserving of asylum. As immigration and asylum laws become more complex, it is more important than ever to make sure you are represented by an asylum lawyer who can zealously advocate your position both face-to-face in Court and also in writing.
What languages does the Lightman Law Firm team speak?
We are proud of the multi-cultural and multi-lingual background of our team. Mr. Guy Menahem, the attorney at our firm who focuses on the asylum cases, is fluent in Spanish, and conversant in Russian and French. We also have access to quality interpreters in many other languages. Mr. Menahem has spent his entire legal career in the immigration field, and has helped many individuals who are seeking asylum. He has appeared before the Asylum Office, the Immigration Courts, and the Board of Immigration Appeals.
To schedule a consultation about an asylum case, please call us at (212) 643-0985.