Receiving a negative decision from a U.S. government decision-maker on immigration matters should not be taken lightly. It may be a sign of insurmountable legal trouble in your case -- for example, that you don't meet the basic qualifications for the benefit or relief you are seeking. Or even if the decision was a discretionary one (more open to personal interpretation), you are at a point where any appeals you make may focus only on whether the primary decision-maker made an actual mistake. Getting an immigration attorney, if you can possibly afford it, a wise idea.
If your case was denied by an Immigration Judge in court proceedings, you should absolutely hire legal counsel to help you appeal. If your case is denied by an immigration officer (for example, after an interview), you should still try to obtain legal representation, or at least get an evaluation of your case by an attorney before you appeal the decision on your own.
There are several reasons for hiring an attorney to help you with your appeal.
First, there are very specific deadlines and procedural and evidentiary rules that apply to appeals. If you miss a deadline or do not otherwise follow these rules, you may lose your chance to have your case reconsidered or to submit additional evidence in support of your case.
Second, although some cases are denied based on simple and obvious mistakes by immigration officers, more often cases are denied because an immigration officer thinks there was a problem with the evidence you submitted or that you do not legally qualify for the benefit in the first place. Sometimes the officer clearly and correctly identifies the problem in the decision, and sometimes he or she does not. Changing this kind of decision will require more than simply resubmitting the old evidence, making the same arguments, or pleading that your case is sympathetic and should be granted.
To effectively appeal, you have to address the specific points that an immigration officer is concerned about and identify the correct rule that should have been followed. In addition, you may need to make new legal arguments to show how existing law applies to your case if it is different than other cases that have been considered before.
An attorney can help you identify the “real” issue for the officer, present the proper arguments for appeal, and make the best possible arguments on your behalf. Trying to do this on your own is very risky because immigration law is complex. It is based on statutes, regulations, policy memorandum, and local procedures, not all of which are clearly and easily identifiable to a layperson (or even immigration officers!).
Finally, the consequences of failing to timely or correctly appeal a decision may be very serious. In some cases, if your application is denied, you can file again for the benefit. However, in many cases, the legal and factual conclusions in the decision can be held against you in subsequent applications and prevent you from applying again for that benefit or other benefits. Therefore, it is worthwhile to invest the time and money in hiring an attorney to represent you, or at least advise you, in your appeal so that you are not haunted by the decision in the future.
The first step in getting legal help with an immigration case is to talk to several – hopefully at least two – attorneys. You should be able to schedule a quick meeting, even over the phone, to explain your situation, get an idea of the fees, and get a sense of the lawyer’s approach and fit for you. See our section on working with an immigration lawyer for some tips on what to look for.