If you are an immigrant and in need of legal help, the best things you can do is educate yourself about what legal resources are available. In other words, you have to know where you can go to seek immigration help: information, legal assistance, and support.
As an immigrant, what kind of situations you may find yourself where you need legal help? You may want to apply for legal immigration status, for example, getting a green card through a family member. Perhaps you are having an issue with your landlord and he or she is not addressing a major problem in your apartment or you are facing eviction. You could also be facing a need for legal assistance for personal issues such as domestic violence, custody, or divorce. It may be the case also that you are in need of legal help in order to get access to public benefits or special education services for a child.
In situations like those, cultural and linguistic barriers, added to the high legal fees of attorneys, turn the access to legal support and immigration help into a real challenge. Your first step should be empowering yourself with information on where and how to get the help you need.
This article will help you. We include an extensive list of immigration help resources, divided into two sections: the first one covers any immigration legal service that you may need and the second one refers to other legal services -not necessarily related to immigration. For each section, we include private services, low-cost services and online resources where you can get free help.
RESOURCES FOR IMMIGRATION LEGAL SERVICES
Although there is no government-appointed counsel in immigration court, immigrants are allowed to hire a private lawyer to represent them or work with a pro bono lawyer at a non-profit organization to get the immigration help they need.
Private Immigration Legal Services
If you can afford to pay for a layer to get immigration help, it is worth considering the cost because most non-profit organizations providing free legal services to immigrants have long-wait lists due to having limited resources.
If you take this route, you want to make sure that the private immigration attorney you want to hire is actually a licensed lawyer in good standing with a State Bar Association and that they maintain their license with continuing legal education. One of the best resources to check this information is through the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) lawyer search. If the immigration attorney is a member of AILA, that is also a great way to check and make sure the person is actually a lawyer and not a notario fraud. To read more about notario fraud, click here. You can also check out the government’s list of lawyers who have been disciplined and make sure you do not work with a lawyer on that list.
Free or Low-Cost Immigration Legal Services
There are several websites available where you can search for low cost (or even free) immigration help and legal assistance in your state or region.
- Immigrationlawhelp.org – you can search by state
- Immigrationadvocatesnetwork.org – you can search by state
- Immi.org – you can type in your zip code and search a network of over 1,000 nonprofits in English and Spanish for an organization near you that that can assist you for free or at a low cost
- The federal government also has a list of recognized organizations and accredited representatives, and also pro bono legal service providers that are listed by state
Free Online Immigration Resources
If you are not able to pay for a lawyer or find a free lawyer to provide you with immigration help, you can access many free legal resources available online:
- Citizenshipworks.org is a free online service that helps you apply for citizenship. This site will tell you about any potential problems with your application and connect you to the help you need, either online or in person. It also tells you what documents you need to submit and what to expect after you apply
- Immi.org has a quiz (10-30 minutes) that you can take to better understand your immigration options. You will receive personalized results that you can print and bring to your lawyer to make it easier and faster to help you
- Learn about U.S. immigration law at the Immi.org Learning Center
- You can make a plan to help you and your family prepare in case you have an immigration problem. The Immigrant Legal Resource Center also offers a family preparedness plan
- Inmigo app – a comprehensive resource providing up-to-date and relevant information for people working in the immigrant integration space; for community members to learn about immigration law and civil rights, access study materials to prepare and apply for citizenship, and connect to local nonprofit legal service providers
- Oportunidad app – information on legal resources, managing your finances, applying for health insurance, and registering to vote
- Women Step Forward – this website offers legal help to immigrant women and options for more information
- Resource on steps to take now to avoid losing custody of your children if you are detained by ICE– available in Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, and French
- ACLU videos on what to do when interacting with ICE (immigration agents) – you can view these in English, Spanish, Urdu, Arabic, Haitian Creole, Russian, Mandarin
- Information about your rights if you have Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
- Information about your rights in the border zone, in English and Spanish
- Information about your rights if ICE is at your door, in English and Spanish
- Information about your rights if questioned about your immigration status
- Information about your rights at airports and other ports of entry into the U.S.
RESOURCES FOR OTHER TYPES OF LEGAL SERVICES
Immigrants may also be interested in seeking legal help for issues that do not have to do with immigration, such as legal advice and representation for public benefits, family law, evictions, employment, education, and other civil matters. You can either hire a private lawyer or seek free or low-cost legal assistance from a legal service provider.
Private Legal Services for Various Legal Issues
Just like when looking for an immigration lawyer, when you are looking for any kind of lawyer you want to make sure that person is licensed to practice law. There are private attorneys that specialize in every kind of law. You can search the American Bar Association lawyer referral directory and bar directories and lawyer finders for a lawyer that has experience in the kind of specific legal issue that you need help with.
Free or Low-Cost Legal Services for Various Legal Issues
- For state-level criminal cases, you can search for the public defender office in your state for legal help. Some states do not have public defender systems, and instead, you can opt for a free lawyer appointed by the criminal court. If you are facing federal criminal charges, you can look up the federal public defender office in your state
- For civil law matters, you can go to lawhelp.org and search by state – each state will have a list of resources for different legal issues such as employment, housing, consumer, family law, domestic violence, probate, and estate planning, public benefits
- The Legal Services Corporation offers a list of legal aid organizations that offer help around the country – you can search by zip code. Please note that unfortunately because of funding restrictions from the federal government, most legal aid organizations that receive federal legal aid funding are barred from providing help to undocumented immigrants. Here is a list of types of immigration status people can have to qualify for legal advice in organizations funded by the federal government. However, in some states, there are legal aid organizations that do not receive federal funding and therefore are able to help undocumented and all kinds of immigrants
Free Online Legal Help
If you are not able to pay for a lawyer or get a free lawyer to help you on a legal issue you are facing, you can access free legal resources online:
- The American Bar Association offers some free legal answers – you can select the state where you live and ask questions
- The ACLU also offers Know Your Rights information on various legal issues such as students’ free speech rights in public schools, what to do if stopped by the police, stops and arrests, searches, warrants and questioning when encountering law enforcement, anti-Muslim discrimination, rights of LGBT high school students, survivors of sexual and domestic violence, and pregnant and breastfeeding workers facing workplace discrimination
Although getting access to legal help can be challenging if you are an immigrant, you always have options. Educating yourself about what resources are available, either for a fee, at low-cost, or for free, is the first step to getting the help you need.
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