Most people only approach the law when they have no choice. Immigrants wishing to stay in this country are an example. They have no choice but to deal with, one way or another, the law or law enforcement. Many choose to enter the gauntlet of U.S. immigration law. For that uncertain and risky journey they need a guide. There is no shortage of “guides.” Many of them are con artists who would sell their own neices and nephews for the right non-fundable fee, cash in advance.
Many of these guides are not lawyers. They call themselves immigration consultants or advisors or something else. Some are lawyers, lousy, dishonest lawyers whose time is running out. Regardless of what they call themselves they know little or nothing about immigration law or practice. But they have what matters most: they look the part. Often they have a common heritage and language with those who need a guide. These guides look and sound like they can be trusted. Many look so prosperous that their legitimacy is never questioned. Even those who look furtive and who work out of run-down offices enjoy an insurmountable advantage: by comparison to government agents, they look trustworthy. They banter knowingly about what it’s like, about how tough things are. They talk about things from home as if they were friends of friends. After trust has been established, betrayal is easy. Like taking candy from a baby.
Step 1. You pay them cash in advance.
Step 2. They “advise” you how to fill out paperwork.
Step 3. They tell you how to file the paperwork.
Step 4. There is no step 4. The game is over. Part of the game, you see, is encouraging the clients from back home to distrust the United States Government. It’s not difficult. The government has made it perfectly clear that it trusts no one and that it will do what it wants with whomever it wants whenever it wants. Deportation is no more difficult than dropping a package in the mail. Off you go. If you get caught. And of course if you complain to the government about your guide, if you explain how he took your money and betrayed you, off you go. In effect, you’ve just turned yourself in.
It’s the perfect con … with a big risk: that immigrants who have been victimized will risk trusting the law. You can’t stick it to people like that without tempting fate. Sometimes dignity and honor overcome fear. People who come forward to give evidence, especially with the advice and assistance of a good lawyer, are likely to find that they are treated with respect.
If stories like this are true, then there is a cultural barrier between immigrants and the legal profession. We need bridges between the profession and immigrants. We need people to build trust between lawyers, – good lawyers, honest lawyers, – and immigrants. We need someone to explain what a good lawyer is in the United States AND HOW TO FIND ONE. We need someone to explain that lawyers in the United States do not work for and are not beholden to the government. They must uphold the law. Sure. But, they can be trusted. They will guide you. They won’t stop at step 3. Depending on your situation they may tell you that your chance of success is so low that you shouldn’t risk your money. They won’t turn you in. They will do their best within the law to help. They won’t steal your money.
Wanted: bridge-builders from all countries, who belong to immigrant groups, who speak the languages as those needing a trustworthy counsellor and advocate, and who understand and respect the role of American lawyers and who are willing to build bridges between the legal profession and immigrant groups. All of us, one way or anotther, to one degree or another, through one connection or another, either are immigrants or were immigrants or come from immigrants. It’s one of our country’s best features although you would be forgiven for seeing little evidence of it recently.