Senator Dick Durbin and Representative Luis Gutierrez released a video message to the DREAMers on August 6 that is one of the most irresponsible and dangerous public messages from a voice of authority in living memory. It is a deep disgrace that supposed champions and co-sponsors of the DREAM Act would advise young people who are eligible for Deferred Action for Childhod Arrivals, “Do Not Hire a Lawyer.” Yet Sen. Durbin said those those words, doing a huge disservice to the very vulnerable class of people they are ostensibly trying to help.
These elected representatives perpetuate a dangerous source of confusion between unscrupulous ‘notarios’ who engage in the unauthorized practice of law, and licensed, trained attorneys who are subject to ethical rules and have the ability to advise DREAMers properly on the process and potential consequences of applying for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
An experienced immigration lawyer who has carefully reviewed the applicant’s background and documents can ensure that DREAMers file applications which will have the best possible chance of success. This is why Senator Durbin’s patently false claim that “Virtually everyone will be able to go through this process without a lawyer,” is so disturbing. Perhaps he has already forgotten that the Deferred Action application process includes no right of appeal, and permits no motions to reopen. This is a one-shot opportunity. Applicants must get it right on the first try, or else they face a discretionary denial that is final and cannot be reviewed.
Perhaps Sen. Durbin and Rep. Gutierrez have also forgotten that both USCIS and ICE have extremely poor track records with respect to granting any forms of discretionary relief to applicants who are unrepresented by counsel. The memos of June 2011 from ICE Director John Morton authorized broad use of prosecutorial discretion for those already in proceedings who have no criminal convictions, but the rate at which such relief has been granted in immigration courts is less than 2%. Self-represented applicants who misunderstand any of the Deferred Action criteria and thus fail to interpret their own eligibility correctly, or who get the standard right but provide documentation that USCIS regards as insufficient, or who believe that the information they provide will remain confidential, may be placing themselves and their families at risk of deportation. These are some of the key reasons why it is so very important for DREAMers seeking Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals to consult with a knowledgeable
immigration attorney or legal service organization, and why the message from Messrs. Durbin & Gutierrez will do real harm.