Do I need a lawyer?
Applying for DACA immigration benefits is not any different than applying for any other kind of immigration benefit. There are pluses and minuses; risks and benefits. A better question is: do I need a good lawyer? Because who wants a bad lawyer, right? While those are both good questions to ask, we’d like to suggest rethinking the question. Instead of asking “do I need a lawyer” ask this: what can a lawyer do to help me?
There are two different things that a lawyer can do:
- A lawyer can help you determine if you are eligible and what the risks might be in your individual case. This is generally called screening: a lawyer screens your case for eligibility. At the same time, a good lawyer will also screen you for other, better immigration benefits — benefits that might lead to permanent status. During the screening process, a lawyer can assist you in thinking through risks if you have a non-significant misdemeanor or have prior contact with the immigration authorities. A good lawyer will provide you with tools and information that you will need to make an informed decision about whether to proceed and how to proceed.
- A lawyer can help you with the application process. This is generally called representation: a lawyer represents you and your case before the immigration authorities. This is a separate thing from screening. If a good lawyer represents you, the lawyer will conduct a thorough screening, identify weaknesses and strengths in your case, strategize about evidence collection, provide guidelines for collecting evidence, review your evidence to make sure it is relevant, probative, and non-prejudical (i.e., it won’t hurt you), prepare applications, file the applications, and interface with the immigration authorities throughout the process. Representation might be important to you because there is no appeal process if a DACA application is denied.
Screening and representation are different things. You can ask a good lawyer to screen your case. A screening might take place during a paid consultation, a community clinic, or at non-profit immigrant legal services organization. In some cases, a screening might be the only thing you need because it will help you make an informed decision about the law and you feel confident in your ability to follow the process. In some cases, representation is appropriate because you don’t want to worry about the process, you want to have a confidential advisor to talk to during the process, and you want an experienced person handling the legal papers.