FINDING AN IMMIGRATION LAWYER
There are many immigration lawyers in the United States! For example, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) has over 15,000 members. Accordingly, on average, each state in the United States should have at least 300 immigration lawyers. In other words, it should not be too hard to locate an immigration attorney nearby. Then again, averages can be deceiving.
Immigration lawyers are not evenly distributed in terms of geography, let alone skill.
Some parts of the country have high concentrations of immigration lawyers with several law offices on the same block where lawyers are practically handing out free lollipops – or so it seems! Elsewhere, however, you may need to drive literally hundreds of miles to get to an immigration lawyer. If so, you may feel deprived of a real choice, believing that this one lawyer is who you must resign yourself to due to a lack of other options. Generally, it is good to find an attorney who is physically close to you, but that is not the only consideration.
Aside from physically locating an immigration attorney, the next task is trying to determine the overall quality of that particular lawyer’s work.
The quality of legal representation you can expect from an immigration lawyer may vary – sometimes, it can vary by a lot. The fact that there are considerable differences in the quality of work provided by immigration attorneys has even been the subject of some reports:
Generally speaking, membership in AILA is an excellent starting point for clients to look for. If an immigration attorney is a member of AILA, this means that the attorney is aware of the complexities of U.S. immigration law, that the attorney is part of a community of attorneys who focus on immigration law and membership in AILA suggests that the attorney is willing to be exposed to the judgment of other attorneys. However, there are some good immigration lawyers who either choose not to join AILA or who are lapsed members of AILA. Nevertheless, AILA membership should generally be your starting point.
When it comes to immigration lawyers in the United States –-and even lawyers outside of the United States who focus on U.S. immigration law– AILA continues to be the premier, most prestigious professional organization in the United States. That said, the only requirements for membership in AILA are that the lawyer must be licensed to practice law in one of the 50 states of the U.S. or in one of the U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico.
There is no federally-recognized qualification or certification for immigration lawyers. Anyone can call him- or herself an “immigration lawyer” as long as that attorney is licensed to practice law. While some states do offer special board certifications, most states do not.
New Jersey does not provide any state certifications in immigration law.
Immigration law is rather unique –compared to other fields of law– in that immigration lawyers “compete in the marketplace” with people who are not lawyers yet claim they can provide “the same service” as an attorney. Such unlicensed service providers are called “notarios.” Their services are mostly offered recklessly, based on an insufficient understanding of the law and without the “notario” being able to evaluate the facts adequately. Practicing law without a license is a violation of federal and state law, even where the service provider has the best of intentions and wishes to be genuinely helpful.
What is a notario? “Notarios” are not licensed as an attorney in the USA. They just pretend to be an attorney or may be they’re attorneys in another country. They hold themselves out as “paralegals” or “immigration consultants.” Notarios generally speak the same language and usually come from the same ethnic community as the immigrants being “served” by that person. A notario usually is a real notary public. It is also common for notarios to offer ancillary services such as: income tax preparation, sales of airline tickets, translations of documents, passport applications, and other “multi” services. It would be foolish to trust your immigration case to someone who is not even a lawyer! You would not want your next-door neighbor to perform open heart surgery on you, no matter how trustworthy the person seems to be. Similarly, it is impossible for a notario to provide you with competent immigration representation. A non-attorney who is NOT certified by the BIA (Board of Immigration Appeals) is not allowed appear with you in court or before an agency such as USCIS. Unfortunately, so-called notarios frequently operate with impunity.
Another trend in the field of immigration law are computer-based, remote, and/or virtual immigration law providers or tools. “Self-help document preparation services” have entered the immigration marketplace. Similar to “Turbo Tax” for income taxes preparation or “Uber” in the transportation business, these new service models promise to democratize service and disrupt traditional legal services. Immigrants are encouraged to perform their own immigration services and/or to obtain “free” virtual immigration advice. The promise is that this will be “easy” and, most of all, that it will cost a lot less money. Just remember the old adage, “You get what you pay for.”
Nonprofit Organizations: There are many great legal services organizations out there with lawyers and paralegals who receive very modest salaries. They devote themselves to certain kinds of immigrants. In many cases, the work is done competently & even fabulously. Services are offered at no cost or at a very low cost to the client. Generally speaking, a non-profit legal services organization can be a good option for those immigrants if their situation fits the mission of the organization. However, there is a caveat: many nonprofit organizations are severely underfunded and the demand for services may overwhelm the ability of the organization to provide sufficient, individualized attention to their clients’ needs. The legal services non-profit organization may have such limited resources that it may hamper the lawyer’s ability to help the client. Comparing a non-profit attorney to a private attorney is sort of like comparing public schools to private schools: there are many great public schools out there, but then again – we can all agree that most of the time, your child would probably be better off at a private school, given that our public schools do tend to be underfunded.
When you are searching for an immigration lawyer, your best bet is to start looking for an AILA member near you. At least in New Jersey and Philadelphia, local attorneys who are AILA (American Immigration Lawyer Association) members have traditionally embraced a spirit of collegiality and mutual helpfulness. Most local immigration attorneys understand that when we immigration lawyers help one another, we do elevate the professional as a whole.
Many Immigration Lawyers Are Heroes
Immigration lawyers have come under attack for trying to defend vulnerable clients. The U.S. Attorney General has gone so far as to libel our profession by calling us “dirty.”
“We also have dirty immigration lawyers who are encouraging their otherwise unlawfully present clients to make false claims of asylum providing them with the magic words needed to trigger the credible fear process.” Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, October 2017.
While there certainly are immigration attorneys with questionable ethics and practices, most immigration lawyers –especially those who focus on helping asylum seekers!– practice law with a sense of purpose. We want to assist those who comes here to find safety, to be able to work and contribute to the richly-woven fabric of American life.
This website exists to point out the advantages of hiring Trinidad Law Office, LLC. Nevertheless, please be aware that there are many immigration lawyers in New Jersey and Philadelphia –-and elsewhere in the country!– who are fighting the good fight. If for any reason you don’t like the services or style of Ms. Trinidad, there are other lawyers out there who do a great job for their clients. Ms. Trinidad will gladly provide you some referrals.
How Might Trinidad Law Office, Llc Handle Cases Differently From Some Other Law Offices?
REQUIRED DISCLAIMER: No aspect of this website has been approved by the Supreme Court of New Jersey.
With so many law offices to choose from, why choose Trinidad Law Office, LLC in Bridgeton, New Jersey?
Good question! Here are some things to think about, as follows.
Please, as you read this, keep in mind that the websites of attorneys are marketing tools and constitute advertisement. Nobody checks the websites of lawyers for accuracy. That includes this website!
When choosing an immigration lawyer, you should remember just how much is at stake! The outcome of an immigration case has life-long consequences that determine the trajectory of what happens next. Your immigration case can determine your future: the future of your marriage, business, and/or family members; it can impact your ability to live as you choose; it can affect your ability to earn a living; can grant or deny you freedom of movement; be able to vote in this country. In short, the outcome of an immigration case can provide access to all the benefits that come from residing legally in the United States or it can allow you to join the community of the United States as a full-fledged citizen.
When it comes to something as inconsequential as ordering pizza or eating tacos, consumers tend to be quite discerning. I have found over the years that my clients strongly agree with me that all pizzas and all tacos are not made the same. Even when it comes to other superficial choices (hairstyles, shoes and clothing, not to mention cell phones and electronics) people tend to perceive great differences between their options. Consumers of every-day goods and services have strong preferences. They decide carefully what they want. Then, when they make a decision, they go ahead with confidence. They know why they are making a particular choice: quality, convenience, speed, prestige, cost – whatever the criteria, all factors get considered before a decision is implemented.
By contrast, that same level of careful decision-making can seem strangely absent when people are looking for something as consequential as an immigration lawyer. Sure, it is confusing and difficult to find an immigration lawyer. At times, though, the predominant questions, when prospective clients are looking for an immigration attorney, seem to be “where can I find the cheapest service?” and “who can do the fastest work?” The question of quality is often set aside, based on the mistaken assumption by prospective clients that “all immigration lawyers are the same” or “whoever I choose as my immigration lawyer, that person will do the same thing as any other immigration lawyer whom I might hire.”
It is understandable that prospective clients may believe that one immigration lawyer is just as good or bad as the next. Unlike the tacos, pizzas, or latest smartphone, the prospective consumer of legal services has usually not yet “tasted” (that is: experienced!) just how different one lawyer can be from the next. Moreover, it may be difficult for a regular person to accurately assess and evaluate the quality of any given lawyer’s services. Without guidance, it may be hard for a someone to choose the right immigration lawyer.
The following information should help to guide you in your search for an immigration lawyer who can help you so that your immigration needs can get fully analyzed and, hopefully, resolved.
IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: Lawyers, and that includes Ms. Trinidad, cannot promise or imply specific case outcomes, and they are not permitted to provide percentage rates of cases lost and won. As you read the information on this website, please remember that immigration lawyers are not miracle workers and that includes Elizabeth M. Trinidad. The information provided here counts as an advertisement for legal services, so please read it as critically as you would read any sales pitch. Think about what you are reading and be sure to consult other sources, as well. Reading this website should not lead you to unjustified expectations about Ms. Trinidad’s services and the results she can achieve.
REQUIRED DISCLAIMER: No aspect of this website/advertisement has been approved by the Supreme Court of New Jersey.
In order to understand better in what way Trinidad Law Office, LLC may take a somewhat different approach from that of many other immigration law offices, consider this:
THE PROJECT MANAGEMENT TRIANGLE: COST, SPEED, QUALITY
There is something called the “project management triangle.” This concept or maxim is well-known within the worlds of business and creative enterprise. It says, essentially, the following: “There are three (3) things everyone wants: the highest quality, the lowest cost, and the fastest speed. It’s impossible to have all three of those at the same time.”
At Trinidad Law Office, LLC, the focus is not on providing the lowest-cost service. However, legal fees charged are reasonable, as required by the NJ Rules of Professional Conduct. For New Jersey attorneys, the Rules of Professional Conduct hold that the reasonableness of a lawyer’s fees is determined by a multitude of factors, including: “the time and labor required; the novelty and difficulty of the question involved; the skill requisite to perform the legal service properly; the likelihood, if apparent to the client, that the acceptance of the particular employment will preclude other employment by the lawyer; the fee customarily charged in the locality for similar legal services; the amount involved and the results obtained; the time limitations imposed by the client or by the circumstances; the nature and length of the professional relationship with the client; the experience, reputation, and ability of the lawyer performing the services; and whether the fee is fixed or contingent.” Ms. Trinidad handles relatively smaller, relatively more routine matters on a flat fee basis. For complex or larger matters, she charges by the hour. Her hourly legal fee (in 2018) is a reasonable $200 per hour.
My focus is not even on the fastest speed although I do strive to get cases completed within a reasonable amount of time under the circumstances, depending on level of complexity of your particular case. In terms of speed, there is a Rule of Professional Conduct for New Jersey attorneys that must be observed, which states that, “a lawyer shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client.”
The greatest area of concern at Trinidad Law Office, LLC is with quality of legal services. Moreover, I attempt to focus on quality in somewhat particular way. Interestingly, the Rules of Professional Conduct for New Jersey attorneys appear rather vague in terms of demanding quality, whereas there are pretty clear rules about cost and speed. Why is that? Perhaps it is because quality is somewhat difficult to pin down.
The issue of quality of legal services is framed as a matter of competence when you read the professional rules of conduct. Specifically, a lawyer who is licensed in New Jersey “shall not handle or neglect a matter entrusted to the lawyer in such a manner that the lawyer’s conduct constitutes gross negligence” and “shall not exhibit a pattern of negligence or neglect in the lawyers handling of legal matters generally.” Notice the qualifiers: it says “gross negligence” and not just negligence; and it talks about “patterns” of negligence – as opposed to negligence in just one case.
Without a doubt, there are many immigration lawyers in New Jersey who do good work and get great results most of the time. However, again notice the qualifier: “most of the time.” What does that mean?
Immigration lawyers, like most people, tend to rely on the law of statistical averages: they know just how much (or how little) work they need to put into a case on average so that most of their clients get favorable results most of the time. The average immigration lawyer will not go into any more detail than what is needed at the moment, and the average immigration lawyer will not worry too much upfront about what could go wrong because most of the time things that could go wrong are unlikely to go wrong.
RISK AWARENESS AND RISK REDUCTION
Risk awareness and efforts at risk reduction are important themes at Trinidad Law Office, LLC. Immigration cases are HIGH STAKES legal endeavors. The outcome of an immigration case is generally LIFE-ALTERING. When you hire an immigration lawyer, your life changes – just as it does when you choose a spouse, a house, a college, or even a heart surgeon to perform open heart surgery. When an immigration case is handled, your life could change forever. Your immigration lawyer becomes your trusted guide in a bewildering and complex legal process. There are many variables over which the immigration lawyer and her client have no control. At the same time, there are quite a number of steps an attorney can take in advance and/or along the way – the key is to try and avoid unpleasant surprises for the case, even if the legal process might move along more slowly.
If you choose not to hire Ms. Trinidad, there is a reasonable likelihood, on average, that someone else can handle a client’s case just as well (or even better than!) Ms. Trinidad.
That said, when it comes to handling immigration cases, Trinidad Law Office, LLC starts with the assumption that it is good to be “ALLERGIC TO RISK” and that the best approach will generally be to proceed with a client slowly, carefully, and deliberately with a goal of SEEKING TO AVOID SURPRISES.
This may involve spending more time on a case and/or considering facts and circumstances that may never come into play – but then again, what if they do come into play?
Not everybody’s case is going to fall into the middle of the “bell curve.” Accordingly, if your case happens to land outside of the statistical average of case outcomes, and if instead your case lands in the “tail” of that average bell curve (a tail is the less common outcome or scenario from what normally happens) of immigration scenarios, then you might suddenly find yourself trapped in an unexpected legal nightmare. Maybe one little detail got overlooked or a policy suddenly changed… things might start to snowball out of control.
In her practice, Elizabeth M. Trinidad, Esquire is acutely aware that even something that has a statistically low probability of ever happening (of ever becoming “an issue”) could lead to catastrophic outcomes if & when it does happen. Of course there is never a zero risk case, yet I like being on the cautious side of things even when clients are super-eager to jump. in.
TRINIDAD LAW OFFICE, LLC STRIVES TO LEARN ABOUT AND UNDERSTAND IN CONSIDERABLE DETAIL EXISTING FACTS THAT COULD AFFECT A CLIENT’S CASE.
Immigration law cases are unique in that nearly every aspect of a client’s life can become the intense focus and/or determining factor of a client’s immigration case.
Immigration cases are also unique because there are so many different decision makers with the potential power to change the lives of non-citizens: there are immigration judges, ICE agents, USCIS adjudicators, border patrol officials, BIA board members, circuit court judges, etc. These are decision makers with the power to “open the door” or “close the door” for a non-citizen who wishes to remain in the USA and/or wants to become a citizen.
The outcome of an immigration case can depend on some random-seeming factual detail that may seem utterly irrelevant to the client. Examples include: tattoos; social media posts; tax returns; work history; traffic tickets; extramarital affairs; auto accidents; etc. Furthermore, facts are often dynamic and not static. Things can change in a client’s life, and when they change, this may –or may not– affect the client’s immigration case.
In addition, U.S. immigration law is an unusually complex area of law. Immigration statutes are convoluted. Even when a statute is written clearly, it may not mean what it says. The Immigration & Nationality Act is federal law, yet it is interpreted differently in different parts of the country because there are frequent “circuit court splits” (which means that different federal appeals courts reach opposing conclusions about the same issue). There is often legal tension between the Board of Immigration Appeals (agency interpretations of law) and federal appeals courts (judicial interpretations of law). Immigration regulations are complex, as well, and the way they are applied may change over time. Finally, immigration agencies issues policy memoranda which can become de facto sources of law, even though technically and legally they do not constitute law.
While risk in a legal undertaking can never be zero, Ms. Trinidad tries her best to uncover POTENTIAL “LANDMINES” – that is, facts exist that could suddenly “blow up” in one’s case in the course of an immigration case. Conversely, Ms. Trinidad strives to uncover HIDDEN “GEMS” – those are facts that could suddenly turn a “hopeless” case around.
It is extremely important to bear in mind that Trinidad Law Office, LLC does not promise superior outcomes. Nevertheless, Ms. Trinidad tends to believe that is well worthwhile to spend some extra time learning about as many facts as possible, given that there is so much to consider that might affect an immigration case, for good or for bad.
TRINIDAD LAW OFFICE, LLC STRIVES TO STAY ON TOP OF LEGAL ISSUES THAT COULD AFFECT A CLIENT’S CASE. In that respect, Trinidad Law Office, LLC is not so different from other immigration law offices. All New Jersey attorneys are required to undergo continuing legal education (“CLE”) classes. Long before CLE was made mandatory New Jersey, Ms. Trinidad was already attending immigration law seminars and conferences on her own initiative in New Jersey, New York, Philadelphia, and Texas. No explicit or implicit representation are made here as to any “superior legal skills” by Ms. Trinidad!
When it comes to developing and maintaining sufficient legal skills, here is how Ms. Trinidad likes to practice immigration law:
1.) It is important for me to remain humble so I can realize what I don’t know. As a lawyer, I like to confer with other experienced attorneys and double check my work to make sure I’m on the right track. I learn something new every day. I may be wrong in something I thought was correct, and vice versa. In the end, I make my own professional decisions, but being a good lawyer does not happen in isolation from other legal minds and communication with other attorneys is key. Sometimes, even my own clients have given me great ideas. I have learned not to dismiss all of their ideas out of hand.
2.) Before success must come survival. This is a concept advanced by the mathematician and philosopher Nassim Taleb. I opened my law office in April 2001 and I have continued to serve my clients as a solo practitioner since then. In other words, I must be doing something right or else I would not still be here. I hope!
3.) I have “skin in the game.” Borrowing again from the ideas of the unconventional Mr. Taleb, you should know that I live in Bridgeton, the same small town where my office is located. I am not some lawyer in some big city, let alone will you find me at an anonymous or remote location (well, Bridgeton is remote from other places, to be sure). I moved here in the year 2000 when I left West Philadelphia – and I chose to stay here and put my roots down in this town. As a member of a small rural community, I am not difficult to locate. My reputation is totally on the line every time that I represent someone. I also cannot hide behind any other lawyers in my office because there are none. The buck stops with me.
NEW JERSEY TRAFFIC CASE DEFENSE
Many immigrants are unable to obtain state driver’s licenses, yet they need to drive. They drive to get to and from work, take their children to the doctor, and engage in other essential activities of daily life. In southern New Jersey and beyond, public transportation leaves much to be desired. Accordingly, Ms. Trinidad has difficulty viewing the ability to operate a motor vehicle as a mere “privilege.” While it remains a privilege legally, in practice the ability to drive represents a critical need and right in the lives of my clients.
Elizabeth M. Trinidad has been handling New Jersey municipal court cases since 2001. In 2014, she won a published Appellate Division case, State of New Jersey v. Armando Carreon, that is one of the few precedential decisions ever to interpret the New Jersey unlicensed driver statute 39:3-10. Ms. Trinidad focuses on unlicensed driver cases, suspended driver cases, the restoration of driving privileges, and uninsured driver cases. She always keeps in mind the intersection of traffic and immigration law: a client’s traffic history can affect that client’s current and future immigration cases. Ms. Trinidad also represents U.S. citizens in their traffic cases in New Jersey – after all, traffic cases in New Jersey may lead to permanent records that cannot be expunged! Due to their complexity, Ms. Trinidad decided in 2013 that DUI cases are too time-consuming for her to handle, so she refers those cases to other attorneys. NOTE: Ms. Trinidad does handle simple assault and domestic violence allegations in Municipal Court.
A SPECIAL NOTE ABOUT NATURALIZATION
Applying for US citizenship is not not always as straightforward as it may seem! When a lawful permanent resident (“greencard holder”) decides to file an application for naturalization (N-400), hidden factors come into play. It may not be enough to read the instructions, follow the instructions, fill out the form, pay the fee, and send off the application to USCIS! Some greencard holders end up with a rude awakening: they are told their greencard is no good or they end up getting deported, even after decades in the USA, because they applied to naturalize on their own without knowing what they were doing.
Sure, many immigrants have applied for citizenship successfully on their own, without a lawyer and without really understanding what they’re doing. Countless people are able to naturalize on their own, without a lawyer, and that certainly saves them money in the process. It can be very tempting to believe that because your cousin, brother, neighbor, sister-in-law, friend, or some other person managed successfully to naturalize without the services of an immigration lawyer – that the same will also hold true for you.
Then again, going it alone with your N-400 is like opening a window & jumping out. Perhaps most of the time jumping out of a window will not kill you. Perhaps most windows are located on the first or second floor, maybe even at ground level. But… just as most people would not actually jump out of any window, regardless how close to the ground that window is, it is a really good idea to make sure you are in fact eligible for naturalization before filing anything. Having a greencard in your wallet is not enough. Only a competent immigration attorney can determine if & when you should apply to become a U.S. Citizen! That lawyer must review the following for you: 1.) your FBI rap sheet; 2.) your traffic history; 3.) your alien file (that is, a copy of the government’s official immigration records, not just copies of paperwork the client may happen to have laying around); 4.) your tax history; and 5.) various other factors. Conversely, delay can likewise be a real danger. It can be equally foolish to sit on your greencard and decide you will not to consult with an immigration lawyer about naturalization – only because you are scared about something.
CONSULTATIONS WITH MS. TRINIDAD
There are no free consultations at Trinidad Law Office, LLC. The purpose of any free consultation, in the opinion of Ms. Trinidad, is to give the prospective client the illusion that he or she can get something without having to pay for it. “Free consultations” really do not exist because there is always an invisible price tag. Either that attorney will not spend enough time with you at the free consultation to be able to understand your case in sufficient detail, or else that attorney will recoup the missed fee from you elsewhere.
The time spent in consultation will generally be charged at Ms. Trinidad’s regular hourly fee ($200/hour). In order to make the consultation meaningful and productive for both the client and the attorney, Trinidad Law Office, LLC has developed a process by which initial screening and certain investigative steps are taken BEFORE the client and Elizabeth M. Trinidad ever sit down together for the actual attorney consultation. There are flat fees for every step of certain background investigations that are conducted up front.
Why does Trinidad Law Office, LLC perform some background investigation(s) up front? Many prospective clients would prefer to just have a consultation without doing the investigation. But seeing a lawyer is kind of like seeing a doctor! You may have some pain and you may feel you already what the diagnosis should be. You just want the doctor to confirm your own diagnosis and just write you the prescription that you want… But good doctors will not just talk to you but send you for blood work, take your blood pressure, collect a urine sample, send you for a CT scan, etc. Only after such tests have been run and “invisible” data has been collected will the doctor sit down to give you an actual diagnosis or explain why your tests are inconclusive. Doctors do not promise that medical tests will come out a certain way. Similarly, good immigration lawyers cannot promise that the results of a background investigation will help the client. When I meet with my clients, I want to take into account all of the “data points” that the immigration decision-makers (USCIS, ICE, CBP, Immigration Judges, etc.) will be looking at in connection with a prospective client. VERY IMPORTANT:
As an attorney, I believe in telling you what you need to know — not just opening my mouth to say whatever it is you would like to hear.
A lawyer cannot give you good advice without good and objective information. Therefore, is not a good use of your money (or my time) for us to sit down together and have a consultation before a background investigation that reveals your history to date has been completed. Only then is advice well-founded and meaningful.
Do not get me wrong: of course it is wonderful for me to sit down with my prospective clients, get to know them, take an oral history from them, as well as look at whatever paperwork they may already have in their possession. On the other hand, this is not exactly the most effective way to learn all that I need to know about your case! I cannot give good legal advice based only on what a client is telling me, no matter how well-informed the client. Why not? Because the government does not make decisions based only on what we tell them! Instead, they look first at databases and all public records that are “out there” for them to review. Okay, so let’s now talk about the preliminary steps before our consultation:
When a prospective client contacts the office, this gets the ball rolling. Trinidad Law Office, LLC will spend time collecting initial basic information as well as obtaining initial basic documents from you. At that step, the prospective client will generally be speaking with Ms. Trinidad’s legal assistants, not with the attorney herself. My legal assistants work under my direct attorney supervision but I will gladly come out to briefly meet and greet you. Copies will be made of certain documents; we do not keep originals! There is a flat fee for the initial screening, making copies of initial documents, and opening a file. Opening a file does not mean that your case has been accepted by me. It does not even mean that you have a case. What it does mean is that I am willing to work with you to see what your general situation is and what factors need to be looked into. (We can’t spend time for free on this.)
Twice a month, by appointment only, we will fingerprint prospective clients. We charge separate flat fee for this. Why? Because time and resources are involved. We utilize the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to obtain information from the FBI about what information, if any is contained in the NCIC (National Crime Information Center) as as well as in certain state police databases, about the client’s fingerprints. We do not provide the client’s address, but rather, we use our own office address so as to make the FOIA request. Most immigration arrests are contained on the FBI rap sheet, as well as certain types of criminal arrests. Immigration authorities always run a client’s fingerprints. They make decisions on what is reflected on the FBI rap sheet, among other information. Accordingly, you cannot receive sound legal advice without your lawyer first looking at the same thing that the government will be looking at when taking action in favor of, or against, a client. Think about it: immigration officials do not make any decisions based only on what the immigrant tells them – they consult their sources first, all types of internal databases and public records.
When you need legal advice and want to know if something can or cannot be done, just “talking to a lawyer” can never be enough. It is never enough to go see a lawyer and plead your case to that lawyer. Unless you happen to be an immigration lawyer yourself, you –as the client– can never given me an adequate description of what is going on with your case. Anything you tell me must be looked at and evaluated conjunction with objective evidence. Objective evidence are different types of records that the government looks at, whether the contents of a given record are correct or not. (Records are sometimes wrong and may need to be corrected; this is another good reason to conduct a background investigation up front!)
OBIM FOIA REQUEST:
This is similar to the FBI fingerprint process, except your fingerprints get sent somewhere else. OBIM stands for Office of Biometric Information Management. OBIM records can similarly be requested under the Freedom of Information Act, just like your FBI rap sheet – hence the term “OBIM FOIA.” If I feel it is needed for your case, Trinidad Law Office, LLC will fingerprint you on a separate fingerprint card so we can request copies of photographs and border patrol encounter information that the Government obtained when you traveled internationally, or when you got apprehended at the border, or when you appeared for a USCIS biometrics appointment. Again, we do charge a flat fee for this because it involves work on our end, but this investigative step is also well worthwhile because this is another set of records the government may use in making future decisions about your case.
FOIA OF THE PROSPECTIVE CLIENT’S A-FILE:
If the prospective client has had an alien file (“A File”) created by the U.S. government –some clients even have multiple A files– then Trinidad Law Office, LLC will also make requests for the prospective clients to obtain a copy of the A File. This type of FOIA request can also only be done with the signed consent of the prospective client.
Prospective clients, even those who merely wish to have a second opinion, will be asked to sign a release authorization so that their current or prior lawyer can talk to Ms. Trinidad. Before I take a case and/or before I provide a second opinion, it is important and interesting for me to find out what the other attorney has done so far, as well as to get a frank opinion from that other attorney. Clients should not be fearful of retaliation – any client is free to seek a second opinion (including the clients of Ms. Trinidad!). Preferably, this is done “out in the open” in a spirit of mutual communication and understanding.
COURT DISPOSITIONS & POLICE REPORTS:
It will generally be necessary for me to have court certified dispositions for traffic and criminal matters to account for your past encounters with law enforcement. My experience shows that clients are generally unable to remember what happened where and when. It is also really hard for most of my clients to accomplish the task of gathering the correct types of court documents and police records on their own. Trinidad Law Office, LLC charges some money –-flat fees, usually– in order for my office to contact courts and/or police departments to obtain what will be needed for me to fully evaluate the prospective client’s immigration case. In this day and age, virtually nothing can get swept under a rug.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE BACKGROUND INVESTIGATION:
Please bear in mind: flat fees charged for the different types of background investigation, even though they can easily add up, are not designed to “squeeze money” from prospective clients. Instead, gathering documentation is work – and Trinidad Law Office, LLC charges for work. That said, the information that is obtained will be useful for for the client regardless of whether or not the client hires Trinidad Law Office, LLC – and regardless of whether the client has a case. Indeed, it is often impossible to determine whether a prospective client has a case or not unless all requisite documentation has been obtained!
WHY I LOVE THE WORK THAT I DO:
Even after nearly two decades, I still love my job! I’ve met many truly amazing people & I enjoy the gift of meeting new people every day. Over the years, I have learned endlessly from my clients and their struggles. I greatly admire most of my clients and I strive to meet every client at eye level. As a lawyer, I do tell like it is. I don’t sugarcoat things too much and I greatly dislike giving people false hope. And yes, sometimes I do scold a little. But I always care. Working as an immigration attorney is a job that I have never gotten tired of although it can be very challenging. There are deadlines to meet and I represent people in difficult situations and it’s my daily duty to “do battle with the government” — I fight nicely, but firmly, to try and get them to see things my way. What can I say, I like a challenge! I love interacting with my immigrant clients and feel extremely satisfied when I am able to help them. I look forward to meeting you. THANKS! ~ Elizabeth Trinidad