As California has the highest immigration rate of any state in the U.S. and many “sanctuary cities” are located there, finding an immigration lawyer in San Diego that can meet your specific legal needs can seem overwhelming. However, there are many resources available to help you find an immigration lawyer which have been designed to simplify the process. Whether you are seeking a legal aid organization which performs pro bono legal services or a paid private practitioner, this article may help guide you to the resources that can help you find the immigration lawyer that is right for you in the San Diego area.
Immigration Attorney Services Offered
Immigration lawyers in San Diego perform a wide range of services relating to many different types of legal issues. Some examples of the major services attorneys provide may include the following:
- Assistance with obtaining visas
- Family-based immigration petitions
- Deportation defense
- Obtaining asylum for political/religious refugees
- Assistance with applying for Lawful Permanent Residency (LPR, also known as green cards) and/or citizenship through naturalization
- Establishing a business in a foreign country
- Representing you in court (this is a service that is often particularly important in cases involving deportation defense)
Any immigration procedure can be performed without attorney representation. However, these procedures can often be complex and confusing. As a result, you may find that a competent immigration attorney can help you save time and money. Many immigration attorneys offer free consultations. Attorney consultations offer an opportunity for you to explain your immigration situation to an attorney (the attorney will be required to keep your information confidential). The attorney will then have the opportunity to give you some preliminary information about their practice and what their services may cost. The amount you will pay for attorney services will vary based on many different factors, like the type of services performed and the rate that the attorney generally charges (e.g., per hour or flat fee). During the consultation, you may want to ask about the attorney’s experience with handling your type of immigration issue and how often they have been successful.
Major Classes of Legal Immigrants in the U.S.
The following categories represent the major classifications for legal immigration into the United States, whether you are seeking a visa, lawful permanent residency, or citizenship:
- Family: Currently, this path is only available to the immediate family of U.S. citizens. Immediate family is defined as parents, spouses, or children of U.S. citizens. Although, in recent months, the U.S. president has publicly announced an intent to strictly limit family-based immigration to spouses and children
- Employment: A U.S.-based employer agrees to employ and pay related costs of the prospective employee’s immigration. The applicant may also earn legal immigration based on the demonstration of an extraordinary or unique contribution to the U.S. labor market
- Students: Temporary visas granted to applicants who are seeking to study at a U.S.-based educational/academic institution
- Investment: Immigrants seeking to invest specific amounts of capital into starting a U.S.-based business enterprise(s)
- Asylum: Protection from racial, political, religious, national, or social persecution (also available to victims of certain types of crimes)
- Lottery: Random selection of applicants for residency within the U.S. This type of immigration grants diversity visas to approximately 50,000 applicants per year among millions who apply annually. This is the least likely method of obtaining lawful immigration into the U.S.
U.S. Immigration Background
The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) establishes immigration policies in the United States. Accordingly, all immigration applications (immigrant visas and green cards) must be submitted to and approved by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). However, immigration decisions may also be reviewed by other government agencies such as the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO), the U.S. District Courts and the U.S. Courts of Appeal. Applicants may choose to hire an immigration attorney to represent them throughout the application process to ensure that the process is conducted thoroughly and fairly. Applicants may hire any immigration lawyer they choose. However, an no-cost attorney will not be provided to them for U.S. immigration-related matters. Immigration applicants may be determined ineligible upon a finding that the applicant has committed certain types of crimes. This is particularly true in cases involving violent crimes and aggravated felonies (usually involving the use of a lethal weapon (e.g., robbery).
If the applicant intends to work or earn money via employment within the U.S., their employer must sign a contract which pledges intent to provide financial support to the immigrant applicant to sustain the applicant while in the U.S. This employer is called a sponsor in these types of situations. Most often, the sponsor is the party who files the immigrant petition on behalf of the applicant. Such a promise is called an affidavit of support, and it is required to be submitted to the USCIS in all cases which involve immigrant employment within the U.S. Additionally, applicants must demonstrate that they are unlikely to become dependent on public assistance to sustain themselves while living in the U.S. This process is known as a public charge, and applicants who are determined to have a strong likelihood of requiring public assistance may be determined to be ineligible for lawful immigration status.
For those facing deportation, a decision will be made after a procedure called a deportation hearing has been held. If you have been accused of being in the U.S. illegally, you are absolutely entitled to advance notice of this type of hearing and to be present at the hearing with an attorney. If you are not afforded both of these, a decision to deport you must be postponed or set aside by the court. You have the right to hire an immigration attorney of your choosing to defend yourself against deportation, regardless of your immigration status. You also have the right to be in the courtroom during every stage of your deportation hearing. However, the government will not provide an attorney for you. You will have to hire an immigration attorney at your own expense.
At the hearing, the ultimate decision as to whether you will be deported will be made by a judge, not a jury. The judge is required to hear and consider certain information relating to your immigration status. For example, whether you have applied for a visa or permanent residency, the status of these applications (if any), your reason or reasons for being in the U.S., if you are legally working, if you have children or a spouse legally living in the U.S., and if you have a criminal record. If the court finds that you have been convicted of violent crimes (e.g., robbery) or crimes of dishonesty (e.g., fraud), this may affect the ultimate deportation decision. The commission of a crime is not necessary for the court to impose a deportation sentence.
At the hearing, you have a right to examine (or let your attorney examine) the evidence that the government has presented against you; you may also offer your own evidence and witnesses (e.g., documents that prove you are permitted to be in the U.S.); and you can question the government’s witnesses. The court must weigh the evidence based on whether it makes deportation more or less necessary. This standard is much lower than that of a conventional civil trial, which is usually evaluated by a preponderance of the evidence (whether the event was more likely than not). Hiring an attorney who specializes in deportation defense may be beneficial in assisting with the discovery of and argument against the evidence presented in court.
If you are seeking an immigrant visa, the following represent some of the types of visas offered by the U.S.CIS:
- I-140 Visa: Employer’s application for an immigrant visa and proof of ability to pay
- H-1B Visa: Employment-based, nonimmigrant visa for temporary workers
- K1 (Fiance) Visa: Visa issued to the fiance or fiancee (imminent spouse) of a United States citizen to enter the United States
- E2 Visa: A treaty investor visa is a nonimmigrant visa reserved for foreign entrepreneurs of countries that have a Treaty of Trade and Commerce with the United States.
- L1 Visa: The L1 visa is an intra-company transfer U.S. visa. It allows a U.S. company to transfer a key employee from one of its offices in another country to the United States.
- EB-5 Visa: The EB-5 visa provides a method for eligible immigrant investors to become green card holders by investing $500,000 or $900,000 after Nov. 21, 2019, to finance a business in the United States that will employ at least 10 American workers.
Note: Immigrant visas (IV) are issued to people seeking to reside permanently in the U.S. Nonimmigrant visas (NIV) are issued to people with a permanent residence outside the United States and wish to be in the U.S. temporarily for tourism, medical treatment, business, temporary work, or study, for example.
More Official Resources
If you are seeking to apply to become a Lawful Permanent Resident (green card), official information about that process can be found here:
There are many resources available in San Diego to aid you in your search for the right immigration attorney. For instance, the State Bar of California maintains an index of all attorneys licensed to practice law in California on its website:
This index allows you to search for an attorney in San Diego based on various criteria. Also, the following organizations and their contact information may be useful when looking to resolve your immigration matter:
Helpful Immigration-Related Organizations In and Around San Diego
Immigration and Customs Enforcement 185 W F St #600 San Diego, CA 92101 (619) 744-4800
San Diego Volunteer Lawyer Program, Inc. 707 Broadway #1400 San Diego, CA 92101 (619) 235-5656
Legal Aid Society of San Diego Inc. 110 Euclid Ave San Diego, CA 92114 (877) 534-2524
Immigration Assistance 239 Laurel St San Diego, CA 92101 (619) 231-6222
Immigration Law Clinic 3230 Fifth Avenue #100 San Diego, CA 92103 (619) 239-5449