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Immigration Basics - Legal Help

Your guide to understanding United States immigration law.

If you or a family member is interested in living in the United States, you may need someone who can help you understand U.S. immigration laws and who can help you apply for legal status. This page will help you decide if you need an immigration lawyer and what you need to know to choose a qualified lawyer or authorized representative. Lawyers will tell you what to expect up front. They will warn you of the risks and possibilities that can reasonably be expected. Get all the facts and protect yourself and your family. Also available in Spanish.


Immigration lawyers are extremely accessible and affordable.


When choosing a lawyer ask to see letters of accredidation or a State Bar Association certificate.

Speak personally with your prospective lawyer. Ask if there is any initial fee for a consultation, normally there is. If you are not satisfied, speak with a different attorney.

Remember: In the United States it is illegal to practice law without a license.

From the begining your lawyer will tell you how much his or her services cost, give you an honest estimate, and keep you informed of the costs during the process.


Local nonprofit immigration assistance services may be free or require a very low fee if you meet the low income eligibility requirements.


How Can An Immigration Lawyer Help You?

An immigration lawyer can help you in the following ways:

  • Analyze the facts of your case thoroughly.
  • Explain all the benefits for which you may be eligible.
  • Recommend the best ways for you to obtain legal status.
  • Complete and submit your applications properly.
  • Stay current on the new laws that affect you.
  • Avoid delays and problems with your case whenever possible.
  • Discuss the status of your case with you.
  • Speak for you in discussions with the Department of Homeland Security or represent you in court.
  • File necessary appeals and waivers.
  • Utilize the system to your advantage because he or she has the experience to do so.

How Do You Find An Immigration Lawyer Or An Accredited Representative To Assist You?

Option 1: Visit, the online directory of attorneys who are members of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Option 2: Visit or talk with the lawyer personally. Is he or she trustworthy and knowledgeable? What does the lawyer say can be done for you? How much will it cost? Ask if there is an initial consultation fee; there often is. If you are not satisfied talk to another lawyer.

Option 3: Ask about local nonprofit immigration assistance services with accredited representatives to see if you meet their low-income eligibility requirements. If you do, the assistance would be free or would require a very low fee. Make sure that they have a good reputation and that you feel comfortable with their skills. Some accredited representatives may offer only limited types of assistance.

Beware of...

  • Notaries, consultants, service bureaus, travel agents, or others who promise quick, easy solutions to immigration problems.
  • Anyone who guarantees they can get you a visa for a certain fee.
  • Lawyers from other countries who do not know U.S. laws and are not licensed to practice in the U.S.
  • People who say the "know someone" who has an "inside track" or anyone who wants money to influence or bribe.
  • Be wary of unlicensed operators! They are not accountable to anyone. They are known for taking people's money and doing nothing. Or worse, they may lie to the government in your name for a quick, simple solution that in the end may result in your deportation or permanent exclusion from the U.S.
  • If you are not sure whether the person offering you immigration services is a lawyer or an accredited representative, ask to see the accreditation letters or U.S. bar admission certificate. If you are still not sure, call the State Bar Association. Remember, in the United States it is illegal to practice law without a license.

What is an Immigration Lawyer? an Accredited Representative? the DHS?

An immigration lawyer has studied the immigration laws of the United States and has graduated from law school. He or she is licensed to practice law and is regulated by the State and Federal Government. He or she can help you obtain legal status from the Department of Homeland Security or represent you in Immigration Court.

An accredited representative with a recognized nonprofit agency has been given permission by the U.S. government to help low-income individuals with immigration problems as long as only modest fees are charged.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is the government agency that handles immigration and nationality matters for foreign nationals who come to the United States. They process applications and petitions for legal status, decide who can enter and stay in the U.S., and enforce U.S. immigration laws.

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American Immigration Law Foundation
Suite 200, 1331 G Street NW, Washington, DC 20005
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