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Immigrants Should Take Care in Choosing a Lawyer, Study Finds

1330873_27868463_01022012.jpgA study conducted under the supervision of a New York federal appellate judge has revealed harsh criticisms of many immigration attorneys among New York judges, according to a recent New York Times report. Judge Robert A. Katzmann directed a group of lawyers and researchers in surveying judges and reviewing government data in order to assess legal representation available to immigrants in deportation proceedings. The results, which will be published in the Cardozo Law Review, underscore the importance of choosing an immigration lawyer carefully. While the judges offer scathing reviews of many immigration attorneys, the study found that people who proceed in a removal case without an attorney fare far worse.

Researchers surveyed immigration judges in five courts in New York City and the northern suburbs, asking for their impressions of the quality of legal representation in their courts. They first noticed how few immigrants even have legal representation. For the period fro October 2005 to July 2010, they found that only seventy-three percent of immigrants in deportation proceedings who were not in detention had legal representation, while only twenty-three percent of detained immigrants had attorneys. As for rates of success, they found that sixty-seven percent of immigrants with attorneys prevailed in their cases during that time period, while only eight percent of pro se immigrants did so.

A major factor affecting immigrants’ ability to obtain legal counsel is the tendency of immigration authorities to move detainees around. Immigration officials in New York often send detainees to facilities in other states, often across the country, while their cases are still pending in New York. New Jersey often takes in detainees from New York. The research team’s chairman, Peter Markowitz, noted that many attorneys cannot travel to see their clients if they are detained outside of the region, even if the client has only been moved from New York City to New Jersey. The numbers bear this out: only twenty-one percent of detainees in New York City and twenty-two percent in Newark had lawyers.

Judge Katzmann blames lawyers who lack familiarity with immigration law and potentially take advantage of vulnerable clients. Federal immigration laws are extensive and complicated, and the immigration legal system is a world unto itself, unfamiliar to lawyers who do not regularly practice there. People needing the assistance of an immigration attorney should closely examine the attorney’s experience with immigration law and knowledge of the system. Knowledgeable, skilled immigration attorneys do exist.

Immigrants had enjoyed a court-supported right to counsel in removal proceedings, albeit not at government expense, for over a decade. In 2009, days before Barack Obama took office, Bush’s attorney general Michael Mukasey issued an opinion overturning Matter of Lozada, the decision from the Board of Immigration Appeals recognizing a right to counsel under the Fifth Amendment. The status of immigrants’ absolute right to counsel in deportation cases remains uncertain.

The New York and New Jersey immigration lawyers at Samuel C. Berger, PC help immigrants seeking work visas, investor visas, and other ways to come to, or remain in, the United States. They practice in northern New Jersey and New York City. To schedule a consultation with one of our skilled attorneys today, contact us online or at NY (212) 380-8117 or NJ (201) 587-9200.

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