Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 2, 2012

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Most people only think to hire an immigration attorney when they are about to change their status or seek a visa for a relative. However, if you or any immediate member of your family is not a U.S. citizen, you may want to begin developing a relationship with a qualified immigration lawyer before other issues arise. 

Immigration as a Secondary Issue

Immigration issues usually come up in secondary discussions when other events happen. For example, you are arrested for theft or your spouse files for divorce. Unresolved immigration issues then become immigration emergencies. You want to resolve your criminal case, make restitution, and be done with it – but it could have an impact on any current applications you have pending. It could also alert an enforcement agency that you have illegal status in the country and subject you to deportation. If you are actually convicted of what is known as crime of moral turpitude, you could also be subject to deportation. Criminal lawyers are invaluable for criminal law issues; however, most will correctly advise you that immigration law is a different beast altogether and you should get a second opinion from an immigration attorney before you finalize your case.

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Immigration and Family Law

In the family law setting, issues can arise regarding citizenship of children and visitation schedules when one parent decides to live in a different country. The same principle applies above. Your family law attorney can advise you about the state court rules on child custody, but should also refer you to a qualified immigration attorney when the issues begin to overlap. It may seem expensive to hire more than one attorney; however, the failure to invest the extra time and money can have devastating consequences. Some of the most recent Supreme Court immigration cases have stemmed from 18-year-olds being deported to countries where they do not speak the language because their parents never finished their applications for naturalization. 

Even if your issues do not overlap and you are seeking assistance for a purely immigration-related issue, a consultation with an immigration attorney can be invaluable. Some procedures in the immigration process are fairly straightforward and simple, like travel visas for a vacation. The more complex and permanent the reason for your contact with the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS), the more likely you will need an attorney; for example, helping to adjust your status from temporary to permanent where you have previously been accused of a crime. The more complex the situation, the more an attorney can help you identify and resolve issues before submitting your application. They can also suggest alternate ways to file your application, so that even if you are denied on one basis, you can still be approved through an alternate filing. They can also help to ensure that you remain in-status and avoid deportation issues as you are trying to adjust to permanent status. The bottom line is that the USCIS is a bureaucracy. Even if you are no longer a tourist, you still need a tour guide to help you get through the process.