U.S. immigration laws are extraordinarily tangled. It's been said that the body of immigration law is second only to U.S. tax law in it's complexity. Furthermore, even modest mistakes in a visa or green card application, or the evidence provided as part of an immigration application process, can lead to years-long delays, or even outright denials and deportation. That makes it a challenge for foreign-born persons who might know nothing about U.S. law at all, much less immigration law!
For these reasons and more, many people choose to hire an attorney to help smooth the way.
Immigration lawyers interpret the law, help clients analyze their rights, possibilities, and strategies, and guide you (or if applicable, your sponsoring U.S. family member or employer) through every step of the complicated immigration process.
They prepare a lot of paperwork on your or your employer's behalf (which alone can save you hours), and help you get organized about which items you must collect on your own (such as birth certificates or proof of a valid, bona fide marriage).
They make sure the information you present to the U.S. government when filling out the various forms, collecting documents, or preparing statements and testimony is clear, correct, and consistent. Many immigration applications depend on the U.S. government officer believing your story, so entering inconsistent information on different forms by mistake can create huge problems.
Most importantly, an experienced attorney knows what to expect from the U.S. government. Delays and difficulties are inevitable. The attorney will know how to minimize or deal with the inevitable delays, and what issues to prepare for to make sure apparently simple applications don't get held up on legal technicalities.
Immigration law's tangles can be even knottier when you're in the United States with one type of visa or status, and wish to switch to another. You want what's legally called a "change of status."
Many foreign nationals successfully pursue such changes, but things you might have taken for granted before, like the right to travel in and out of the U.S. on your existing visa, might put your current application in jeopardy. This is an excellent time to get an immigration attorney's advice, to avoid creating problems that could have easily been avoided.
If you find yourself in deportation or removal proceedings in immigration court, the lawyer will research the law to find every possible avenue of relief; help you and any witnesses prepare for your court appearance; deal with arcane court procedural requirements and deadlines; write briefs arguing the law on your behalf; and spend hours in the hearing with you, representing you and helping you present your case.
It's important to understand that the judge deciding your case will not steer you to the right answers, though the judge might ask you questions if you don't bring a lawyer. Also, the U.S. government will be represented by its own attorney, whose main goal is likely to deport you. Only your own attorney will advise you on how best to answer questions and otherwise proceed in court.
Make sure to find an excellent lawyer. (And someone who is truly a lawyer, not a consultant or notario.)
The majority of accomplished immigration lawyers are members of the American Immigration Lawyers' Association (AILA). Although membership in that association is not compulsory, members have access to colleagues, information, and liaison committees that help them keep abreast of ever-changing laws and agency policy and deal with challenging situations.
Your best bet is usually to talk to several attorneys before committing to one. Choose a highly regarded lawyer with whom you feel comfortable and who has experience with cases similar to yours.