Do I need an immigration attorney or asylum attorney for my asylum application?

While you are not required to hire an immigration attorney or asylum attorney to handle your asylum application, having one is strongly recommended. Immigration law is a complex mixture of statutes, administrative codes, international agreements, and politics. Forms are not set by statute. Instead, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is vested with the authority to develop the forms and procedures for foreign nationals to complete asylum applications. Having an immigration attorney who has experience dealing with asylum applications and USCIS forms is often essential to a successful asylum application.

Changes to Immigration Laws and Procedures

Furthermore, as national or international situations arise, USCIS forms and procedures have the ability to change quickly because they are not statutes. Even though administrative in nature, changes in USCIS forms and procedures can still affect your rights to access the benefits of asylum laws. In the wake of September 11th, more aggressive changes and border crackdowns occurred. As a result, foreign nationals often find themselves playing by a different – and harsher – set of rules than the ones in effect when they first arrived in the country.

You do have the right to represent yourself at any proceeding. However, you will be expected to know all procedures, deadlines, and form requirements for your asylum application. Your application will not be re-instated just because you did not know the law.

Advice for Seeking an Experienced Immigration Attorney

When seeking counsel, make sure that you find an immigration attorney who knows and understands immigration law and the asylum process. You can usually review an immigration lawyer's credentials on the state bar's website and compare the same to the attorney's own website. Do not hire an unlicensed attorney. A notary, or "notario," is not a licensed attorney. If a notary tries to give you legal advice, always double check their recommendations with a licensed attorney.

The bottom line is that you may only get one or two shots at applying for asylum. Do not waste the opportunity by being less than prepared or unrepresented by counsel; it is always in your best interest to have an experienced immigration attorney on your side.