BY ARIEL HERNANDEZ
In the days since President Donald Trump signed his executive orders on immigration and in the wake of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrests throughout the city, Queens’ immigrant communities have been living in fear and trepidation.
As a result, legal experts said that immigrants face the risks of fraud, scams and manipulation and reiterated the importance of finding credible and reliable attorneys.
Carmencita Gutiérrez, director of the Queens District Attorney’s Office of Immigration Affairs, recently dropped by an immigration town hall held by U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) to make suggestions on how undocumented Queens denizens should search for legal representation.
Gutierrez said that an attorney should invite the client to their office and not a public place, such as a restaurant. She added that attorneys should provide identification and answer questions regarding their prior cases and expertise and that a client should be able to ask questions, regardless of their immigration status.
“If an attorney says anything about reporting a person to immigration, that is not a reputable attorney,” Gutierrez said. “If an attorney says ‘don’t worry about it, you don’t need to know what my services are or what I’m going to do,’ that is not a reputable attorney. You need to stay informed and ask the questions and not be afraid.”
American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) Chairman Matthew Blaisdell elaborated on the effects of having a disreputable attorney.
“If you get bad advice, you might just lose time and money or, worse, you may lose your ability to ever apply for a green card, or you may end up deported without any route back to your family,” Blaisdell said. “This is why only certain people can give you legal advice. Legal advice is anything that affects your rights— so, in order to make that determination, somebody has to know all of the many facts in your situation, have to have an understanding of all of the laws, rules and policies and have to have experience applying laws to those facts.”
Blaisdell also encouraged that clients should first make sure that there is a registration number on a lawyer’s card before paying them. He also said that clients should pay via money order or check and require a receipt as well as obtain a written agreement that explains the services that are being performed.
Carmen Maria Rey, deputy director of the Immigration Intervention Project for Families, said that the city’s immigration policies have remained static.
“What we see is a lot of fear,” Rey said. “One thing to keep in mind is despite the rhetoric, the law remains the same. The government has issued orders that affect the way that certain aspects of immigration move. But the law itself— the book that we look to as lawyers that say what the law is and what rights immigrants have and what protections they have to stay in the United States— remains the same.”