21 Jan USCIS Memorandum on Right to Counsel in Immigration Process
The American Immigration Law Council reported that during its nine-year history, issues have arisen with respect to restrictions on counsel by the Department of Homeland Security’s immigration agencies. Tuesday, in response to calls from the American Immigration Council and the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued immediate, comprehensive changes to their policies to ensure an appropriate role for attorneys in the immigration process. Many noncitizens are forced to navigate the immigration process without representation because they cannot afford an attorney. But even persons who can afford one, or are represented by a pro bono attorney, have at times faced severe restrictions on their representation. This is particularly troublesome given the significant power USCIS officers wield. For example, they decide whether a noncitizen is entitled to stay in the U.S. or not. The assistance of an attorney well versed in the complexities of immigration law can help safeguard the rights of these noncitizens and ensure just outcomes. By revising its guidance, USCIS has responded to some of the most serious access concerns. For example, the new guidance provides that an attorney generally may sit next to his or her client during an interview, may be permitted to submit relevant documents to the USCIS officer, and may raise objections to inappropriate lines of questioning. Everyone applying for benefits before USCIS should have knowledgable counsel.