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Welcome To America: An Immigrant’s Story – Maria’s Case Process, Duration and Cost

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Maria’s Case VAWA Process, Duration, and Price.


Mark: Thanks for joining us again on Welcome to America: An Immigrant’s Story and part four of Maria’s story. 

If you missed the first three parts, you’d want to go to our channel and watch those, so that you can get the most out of this segment. While you are there, be sure to like this video and subscribe to our channel so that you don’t miss out on some really great stories and information.

Who knows? You might discover the solution to your own immigration problem and we may be saying to you, “Welcome to America!”

Okay, so where did we leave off with Maria? 

Maria lived in Guatemala with her husband who is a US citizen. Her husband became abusive so Maria fled to America with her youngest child, leaving her older child, who has cerebral palsy. She had made her way to New York and is now living with her aunt in New Jersey. We talked about how she may qualify for VAWA, because of the abusive situation with her husband and how her children are already US citizens because her husband is a US citizen.

Now, I am going to bring back Andres Mejer, a New Jersey immigration attorney and immigration advocate to talk about what the VAWA process looks like, how long it will take, and how much it will cost.


Question 1

Mark: So, things are looking pretty good for Maria. It sounds like she has a real chance of getting legal status in the US.

Andres, what does she need to do to get the VAWA process started? 

Andres: Well, it seems to get a really good attorney. I mean, I hate to say that. Not to pat myself on the back. But the point is, she doesn’t know what she doesn’t know. Like, before she meets an attorney, she might not even know that was an option. When she speaks to an asylum officer or a Customs Border Patrol agent, they may not tell her that that was an option. So it’s possible she comes in asking for asylum, gets released, goes to New Jersey, then consults with an attorney, and only then finds out that VAWA was even an option. So let’s start first with asylum. Under the present rules, she needs to file an asylum application that’s form I-589, before her one-year deadline, meaning one year anniversary from when she entered the United States. Now, Customs and Border Patrol is supposed to tell you that there was litigation under the Trump administration. Because the Trump administration was purposely not informing that, and actually telling Oh, wait until you get a go to court, which often was more than a year afterward. And when she would have already lost her opportunity that, believe it or not, what’s happening. Litigation has resolved that. So on the asylum? Well, from our perspective, in terms of what we charge, we charge based on what we do. And every case is a little bit different. So what I look at is an analysis tool that I created, which I call the 9-5-3 method. There are nine principal paths to legal status. So VAWA is one asylum is another there are nine total, and each one of them has a different process and a different price, then there’s Is there anything in your past that disqualifies her being in removal is one of them, then is there a way to fix that. So in the asylum and asylum context, only, there’s a fee for the application, there’s a fee for every time we go to court, and there’s a fee for trial because filing the application with the evidence and then filing with the documentation necessary for trial. So it’s a lot of work at the beginning and a lot of work at the end. And sometimes there are multiple court appearances in between. So when, when the system is working correctly, maybe she has three or four court appearances, all of that happen within a year. Well, now the average wait time for someone’s removal is and for asylum is four and a half to five years. So that could be multiple court appearances, where nothing is really happening. And we can’t get a trial date. But the court wants us to keep on coming, or the government has questions or they need something or they don’t have their file, whatever the reason is, so we charge a fee for each time we go to court, and then we charge a fee before we go for do the last trial. There are motions that need to be done. There are briefs, there’s evidence that needs to be accumulated. And if the asylum application was filed initially, and now we’re four or five years later, it could be she’s now married, it could be she has other kids, it could be your circumstances have evolved, maybe the threat has only increased, depending on your circumstances. So the application needs to be updated. And then it needs to be prepared for that final trial, which includes affidavits, includes witness prep, maybe getting experts and prepping those experts, and then showing up and presenting the trial. So That’s the asylum. That’s also assuming there’s nothing that disqualifies her. Crimes, priorities of removal, that might need to be fixed. Now, and then there’s Well, who else is claiming with her. So if it’s just her doesn’t change. If it’s her and spouse, there’s an additional fee. If it’s her and child again, in this example, Maria, her children are US citizens. So they’re listed the application, but they don’t actually need the benefit. But what happens? So but Lupe is not in the United States, right? So let’s say she goes to trial and she wins trial loop is outside United States. Now, she would then need to follow the joint. I was just asked this question yesterday. Well, what do I do? If I’m running away from my spouse, and the child is in Guatemala, and I don’t have legal custody of the child. Well, that’s a problem. Because I can, I can help you with your asylum, but I can’t get you legal custody in Guatemala for your child. Now, in the example that we have, Lupe is with her grandmother, which is Maria’s parents. So they can get the passport for her, they can take her to the US Embassy, where she will get a stamp on her passport, and they will have to travel to United States. Now, if Maria is filing for asylum, she can’t really go back to Guatemala to pick up her child. So how does her child get here? Interesting question. Someone’s going to have to help her because Lupe, not only does she have super palsy, she’s also two years old, she’s not gonna be able to travel back and forth in a row. So sometimes it’s a relative or a family friend that has to apply for a visa in order to bring her to the US. Right. Now, how much does that cost? It depends. For us, every court appearance is 1500, or $2,000. There’s an application fee. So that could be anywhere from 5000 to 10,000. Depends on who’s filing is it just Maria, is it Maria’s spouse, is it Maria, spouse and children. So there’s a fee for each additional person because there’s more work and there’s more paperwork. But for every person like a spouse, we have done the same analysis. What’s their path? Is there something that disqualifies them? And can we fix it? So Maria is the principal beneficiary here, her kids don’t need it, it would just be her. But let’s say she was filing for asylum with her spouse, not from her spouse, right? Let’s say she’s from Venezuela, and the government has cracked down on them for their political opinion. So they’re both here. So there’s a fee for her and for him. And then there are multiple witnesses that have to present so the fees go up across the board. Now, how many court appearances so the application itself again, five to 10,000, depending on who it includes, typically, it’s 65 to 7000. But again, it really depends on the specific scenario. Now, if we’re prepared, and if everything goes our way, so you have a six $7,000 application fee, you have one court appearances that says 1500. And then you have the trial fee, which right now is about 5000. So you’re looking at 11 to $13,000. For Maria, over the course of the next couple of years. Some things have to be done upfront, some things can be paid overtime, we typically start with the first court appearances and the application fee. And then we worry about the trial when we actually have a trial date. That’s that maybe years in a future VAWA different scenario, but same analysis, get 953. So now the path is what is VAWA what disqualifies Well, she’s in removal. Alright, we got to deal with that. But there’s nothing else. So she’s still gonna have to go to court, every court appearance 1500 $2,000. There’s an application fee for about what but here, it’s not one application. It’s multiple applications. Remember, VAWA has two basic components, documented relationship and extreme cruelty and the change of status. Each one is thats 3500 hours, plus the filing fee to immigration. But again, is it just her or is it also her kids? Now, if we’re including the kids, let’s say they’re not US citizens? There’s a fee for each for each of them. But are they adult children meaning like 15 16 17, an immigration adult was over 21. So that’s the wrong choice of words, or the inset United States or the outside United States because there’s different fees. So I 360. In initially the kids are listed. There isn’t a separate application for each child. But if they’re outside then then once that’s approved now in her situation, yeah, in removal files the 360, USCIS adjudicates it approves it. Now, we have to file to terminate proceedings, there’s a fee for that, typically 3030 500. In. In the family-based scenario, in a Valois scenario, almost every component is 3500 hours. So I have 360, or I would 30s documenting the relationship, if it’s just a family based application, or if it’s a valid scenario is about 3500. Again, prices do change. Now, if the adjustment of status is also about 3500, plus whatever the government charges, if we have to terminate proceedings, it’s 330 3030 500. If we have to go to court, it’s 1500 2000. If we have to go for an interview, it’s 1500 2000. If we have to do a jail visit, it’s 1500 2000. Where do I get that it’s a half day feed. Basically, if I if me or my attorneys are going with some to court, it’s half debt. If we’re going to see someone in jail, it’s half a day. If we’re, if we’re appearing at an interview at a USCIS office, it’s half a day. So there’s that half a day fee 1500 2000. And then there’s the application itself. Again, we haven’t touched as Is there anything that disqualifies here is for her its removal. So we’re asking the judge to terminate proceedings, that doesn’t happen in asylum and asylum, there’s gonna be a trial, you’re really not making that request. But in the valets scenario, you will. So at the end of the day, that if we’re going to, if they their prior applications before, let’s say she had a tourist visa, and she’s been in the United States, I may want a copy of all those applications, because I want to see absolutely everything. The government has a Maria, I don’t want to show up to an interview and only fine, I didn’t know something that they did, and then I couldn’t fix it in advance. So we charge a background search fee to order all of that. And it’s seven immigration agencies and and with FBI motor vehicle COVID-19 federal agencies, again, the fee varies depending on what it is we’re asking for. It’s typically anywhere from 1000 to $2,000. Depending on we asked him for everything, or are we only asking for something, if all she has is a tourist visa and one or two entries? Well, there’s USCIS for the tourist visa is Department of State for the entries and exits and maybe Customs and Border Patrol. Maybe that’s three agencies. If he’s only been here a month, I don’t need FBI. I don’t even know the vehicle because, well, she hasn’t been here for do that. But if you’ve been here multiple years, and there’s prior maybe criminal conduct or allegations of criminal conduct, I want FBI know what motor vehicle, why motor vehicle, because in New Jersey DUI, although immigration considers it a serious offense, New Jersey only considers it a traffic violation. That doesn’t mean the consequences aren’t severe, they can loss of license, jail, large fines, but again, in New Jersey, it’s a traffic violation. It’s not a felony, it’s not a misdemeanor, it’s a traffic violation. So if I order her FBI record that may not show up, I have to independently order her her motor vehicle history to make sure that there is no DUI that would disqualify her or cause her problems. But either way, on the VAWA scenario, just for her, you know, she’s probably looking at 9500 to 11,000. So for her, no, maybe 13,000. Again, depending motions, anywhere from 11 to 13, VAWA could actually be cheaper, because she doesn’t have the trial fee. Even though it’s the VAWA application itself. 3500 waiver of sorry, not a waiver, asking that the judge terminate proceedings from another 3500. And then the change of status 3500 And maybe an interview and a motion to change venue. So it could wind up being the same or slightly cheaper. Her kids are US citizens, they don’t eat anything. Let’s say let’s assume that they know Well, her daughter would be would be included in her bio application. The so the the i 360. No additional fee, the green card application that I 45 She would likely have to file one for her and for her daughter. So there’s a nominal fee that we charge for that, but the government will charge filing fees for both, which right now is 1250 for the green card, because of her situation. Maybe she could request a fee waiver. Maybe she might get it she might not they’re more considerate in Valois scenario, but look, either way she’s looking at it. This is about a 10 to $15,000 case, depending on whether it’s asylum or not. hour, depending on how many quarter parents she has to go to, depending on whether kids are included or not. And that’s why it becomes complicated. So when someone calls and say, Hey, how much does it cost? It’s never How much does it cost? And nobody on my team can actually give them a price without having the 953 analysis. Because every one of those nine has a different price, then we don’t know what about their past that could disqualify them. It could be a waiver, it could be removal, it could be reopening something. It could be having to overcome a prior denied application, whatever it is, we got to deal with that. And then there’s the Are there any other relatives? And do we have to order any additional documents? Do we have to do any additional work because there’s something in her past or her relatives past? And that’s why it becomes difficult to say, Hey, this is just $1,000 or 5000, or 6000? Because there is no such thing as a simple case. Everything as become harder with immigration lasts longer and costs more.

Question 2

Mark: OK, so Maria raises the money to pay all of the fees. Will she have to wait years to get legal status? How long does it take? 

Andres: Well, VAWA scenario is usually two or three years. That’s just how long it’s taken them to adjudicate it. Now she’s in removal. So it could take a lot longer. So let’s say we move she hires us, she comes in really quickly, she hires us, we filed the 360 for Baba really quickly, but USCIS will take a year plus to adjudicate that she may have a court appearance or two in between while we’re waiting for USCIS to adjudicate now that they’ve approved it, maybe we have a court appearance two years from now or a year from now. And maybe we asked the judge to terminate proceedings, so we don’t have to go. But the judge may not row route that roll, the judge may not decided right away. And that’s what’s happening now is we’re just waiting and we contact and we ask, and we write letters, and we make phone calls. But the judge made a decision, the judge may not make a decision until we go to court. If we’re fortunate, the judge will grant the motion, we won’t have to go to court, and she’s going to have an interview at USCIS office. But that doesn’t always happen. And every court appearance has a fee. Every interview has a fee. Every request that the court has a fee, not every time we call them, but I mean, there’s a fee to file the motion. And then maybe we have to go to court and we don’t have to go to court. So again, it becomes difficult to predict. I can only say what we charge for what we do. But and I can almost always tell somebody what the next step is. But I can’t always tell them what two or three or four steps are going to be. Because there are things that don’t necessarily depend on us. If the judge doesn’t deny the motion, I’m sorry, if the judge grants the motion, then we know we’re going to go to USCIS. Well, it’s gonna take time for the file to be to be sent to the agency and for the agency to then call us for an interview. It’s going to take time for the judge to make the decision. Now, if the judge does it, approve the motion, then the judge will have to give us a trial date, depending on the judge that could be 234 years in the future. So it’s hard to determine how long it’s going to take because there are factors that are outside of our control. It’s almost like the hurry up and wait approach. Hurry up painful. Give us all the documents, we can file so we can file your application, then we wait until the government does does something government could take two years, but once they’ve done it now they make us move quickly. They don’t we have to. It’s not fair. But that’s that’s our reality.

Question 3

Mark: VAWA sounds complicated. It sounds like there is a lot of things that could go wrong. Does Maria need an immigration attorney to get started? 

Andres: Nobody needs an immigration attorney. Okay, the law doesn’t require it. But the problem is she doesn’t know what she doesn’t know. Again. Did she know that she qualified for VAWA when she came to United States? Probably not. Did Customs and Border Patrol teller? Maybe? Probably not. If she doesn’t, so she comes in doesn’t speak to every pass for asylum. She’s just gonna go through the asylum process. Maybe she’s fortunate. And Judge says, Wait a minute, your spouse is a US citizen. You know, she sees the sees the applications. Were you aware of? Maybe the Justice Did you look into? How often does that happen? Not often. But some judges do. Take that time and give that consideration. It’s what they it’s what they should do. But judges are so busy, they have so many cases, you know whether they want to or not, they be you know, they may not, they’re not looking for it. So they may not recommended or suggested or if they do they may not give me the time to look into it. They might just say listen, it’s not my fault. You didn’t see an attorney. So If you waited four years to your trial date, and now we find out that you’ve had something better that you could have done, shame on you. And they’d be right. So the downside of doing it on her own, and she doesn’t know what she doesn’t know. And this is the first application likely of this kind she’s ever done. So maybe she sends the wrong form, maybe she sends the wrong fee. Maybe she doesn’t provide the right documents, maybe that she waits two years and gets a Request for Evidence and then has to respond. Maybe she doesn’t do a good job responding gets denied. Maybe she doesn’t know that she’s dependent employment authorization. So she could have gotten it and she doesn’t get it all this time. So the law doesn’t require to have an attorney, but because she doesn’t know what she doesn’t know, there’s so many ways where that could go wrong. And really, you only get one one shot at this. I mean, yes, you can file an appeal. But that’s taking a simple, a relatively simple, controllable situation, and making it much, much harder. I haven’t I have an individual who hired me for an opinion. He had a family based application out of Texas. He had and he was from Mexico, and he would travel back and forth in the identification travel back and forth. While his case was was was applying, so this is 40 years ago. He’s at the border officer interviews him actually he’s the one driving but his passenger his friend is American looks American speaks speaks fluent English. And him and the and the CBP agent that it was ins, immigration authorizations, I was had a conversation. And then my client understands that he was asked for ID because that’s his driver’s license. He gets arrested for making a false claim to US citizenship, the code he talked about, I never made it. I never said it was a US citizen. I even showed you my employment authorization. And I showed you my immigration documents. Why would I claim to be a US citizen when I’m not I’m entitled to enter the United States. He was put it through removal. He was deported. He was given an order of removal. When he says he never made the claim to begin with. He’s been fighting this for 40 years. He’s inside nine states married to a US citizen. Yes, three US citizen children, all adults, no criminal record, but judge felt he lied. And now he’s trying to undo that when he never actually said again, his words. I wasn’t there either. So I don’t really know. But you never know. You never know. And here he is. Now he has he’s had he’s had some decent attorneys. He’s had some bad attorneys, but 40 years filing for this, that could have been avoided. That’s a worst case scenario.

Question 4

Mark: There are a lot of scammers out there. How does she know the person offering to help her with her immigration problems legit?

Andres: So there’s, there’s like, you got to do your homework. But like in everything in life, you have to interview the attorney, from the perspective of well, do they know what they’re talking about? So I can give you a list of things to do, but it was the most important part for the client is, do you trust the person? How do they treat you? When you call the Law Firm? How do they treat you? When you show up, whether virtually or in person, and you meet the attorney or you meet their consultant or you meet their staff? How do they treat you? Do they make you? Do they give you confidence? Does it that’s the number one thing. Because if they’re not treating you well, before you hire them, you give money, they’re not likely to do that afterwards. So you want to see, hey, is this somebody that’s good at what they do? So do they have can I? Where can I learn more about them? I can go to their website? Do they have videos? Do they have client testimonials? Have they been interviewed on TV? Have they been? Do they have their own radio show? Do they have their own YouTube channel? Can I go and listen or hear to things they’ve said or done? So I can see how they do things? We happen to have a YouTube channel with over 1200 videos on it. It talks about everything from how much something costs to how I do something to you know, how many how much money should I bring to my consultation? What documents do I need? Who needs to be with me? What are my options? We have videos on all of that. And if you watch them, you will get answers to a lot of your questions. Hey, we even made a video. What questions do you have to ask an immigration attorney or are they actually an attorney? You know, you can Google MC, are they really an attorney? Every state has a bar association that you could look up. Have they been cited for ethics violations? If they are an attorney do is their license still valid? You know, you might be meeting a notario, someone who says their attorney when they’re not in because in the US military, I was just notary public $50 and a high school degree and you’re a notary, in some of our countries, notaries are higher and more prominent than attorneys. That’s not the case in the United States. So are they an attorney? Do they have any ethical issues? Have they written a book? Are they an expert? Have they been interviewed by TV, radio or written a book such that you can get a sense for who they are and what they’re about? Have they handled your types of cases in the past? Do they have reviews? Now? How many reviews? Look, if if all you have are perfect five star reviews, and nothing negative ever, you know, they haven’t been in business very long, or something doesn’t make sense? Yeah, can’t be as good as I think we are. Some people, we piss them off. They don’t they want us to work differently than the way that we work. That’s a reality. So we try the part friends, sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. At the end of the day, I try to treat people the way I would want to be treated. But everybody comes from different circumstances. And sometimes it’s not a good fit. So if you want the law firm to completely change what they do, and how they do it to suit your wants or desires, maybe that’s not a good fit. So again, do you trust the person? Do you understand the process that you’re gonna follow with them? Have they explained it? Have they explained how they looked at what your path is, what disqualifies you and how you can fix it? Because too many attorneys only look for a case type, oh, I do asylum or I do family based application? Well, those nine principle paths? Have they considered all of them? It’s really important that you that the attorney takes a holistic approach, help you help your family predict potential problems. Have they done this before? Have they had good outcomes? Is the person actually an attorney? Are they an expert in their own right? I’m not saying you can’t hire an attorney with zero experience that just passed the bar. Nothing wrong with that, just understand what you’re, who you’re hiring, and what you’re getting, that individual is not going to have 20 years of experience, that individual is not going to have done a 1000s of cases like yours. And but they’re likely to be cheaper. At the end of the day, you have to choose who you’re comfortable with. But it shouldn’t be about how much does it cost? It should be? How can I find the best person I can, that I’m most comfortable with? For what my wallet allows? Because it’s about confidence, this is your life, you make the wrong decision, you might very well regret it. I’ve never had a single person complained to me. Oh, thank you for the wonderful service. Thank you for giving me my green card taking me out of removal. But could you have done it cheaper, I’ve not had a single person ever told me that. I’ve also not found anybody who provides the best quality of service, the best results and the cheapest price. It doesn’t exist, you’re not going to find that if you’re going to find somebody gives you a cheaper price, they’re likely going to give you less value, or or a less chance of a good outcome. Look, we’re not magicians, when you just when you’re interviewing someone and you meet them for the first time. You don’t know if they’re going to do a good job. Again, you could see what they’ve done in the past through reviews, through videos through testimonials, to get a sense of of how they’ve done things. But crap happens, right? So crap happens to to the law could change or you could be charged with something that could disqualify you. Life happens. Like make the best choice you get you can with the information that you have. But take the time to make that right decision. Don’t just meet the first person. You know if you hire a Monday because you need to you have court on Tuesday, shame on you. If you’ve been here for a year, and now you’re approaching your first appointment, and you haven’t your first court appearance, and you haven’t hired an attorney, shame on you. Because now that you know, the system gave you the time. Now you’re going to make a hasty decision. Maybe it’s the wrong one. Take your time, make the right decision. should go with someone you feel comfortable with? Is he gonna be working together for a long time?

Question 5

Mark: So what do think would to happen to Maria and her family? Would she get legal status? 

Andres: So she has a great power case. I know that we’ve gotten cases like her approved, we’ve got harder VAWA cases approved this for her there actually is some documentation to support her claim. So she will, again, if she has competent counsel, and they do a halfway decent job, she, and they follow my advice. We’re going to we’re gonna follow the 360 We’re gonna get our VAWA application approved, we’re going to move to terminate proceedings, and then we’re gonna get the case remanded to USCIS and get a green card at the agency stage. If the judge now if the judge tells me, well, counselor, I could grant your motion to remand or I can give you a trial next week. I just had an opening on my calendar, can you do it? Maybe we say yeah, but then we’re gonna, we’re gonna have a conversation. Maybe it’s not next week, maybe it’s two weeks a week is too quick. Maybe we have to have a conversation. Maria said, Listen, we can get your green card faster. But you got to pay for a trial, and we’re gonna have to pay really quickly, or we’re going to remand it and you’ll get it over time. That doesn’t really happen right now, because the trial dates are so far in the future, but it could happen. So there are circumstances where she could choose to have a trial. Because again, the the relationship part has already been adjudicated, extreme cruelty has already been adjudicated, it’s really just about anything that makes her ineligible. That’s a pretty easy trial to have. But it’s still a trial, which means there’s always a risk.

Question 6

Mark: That sounds like a happy ending for her and others who qualify for VAWA. I am sure people watching and listening to us have questions about VAWA or immigration in general. How can they contact you? 

Andres: We love to answer questions so we try to make it easy. You can of course call us at 1-888-421-9942 or visit our website, andresmejerlaw.com, but you can also leave your questions in the comments section or use the links in the video description to message us on Facebook. You can also use our “Do you qualify for legal status” tool. In less than 3 minutes, if can tell you if you may qualify for legal status in the US for free. That link is also in the description.


Mark/Jose: On behalf of Andres, I would like to say thanks for watching and I hope you got as much out of this series as I did. 

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