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Immigration attorney

Casey Harrison

Las Vegas immigration attorney Adriana Pereyra leads a workshop Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, for nearly two dozen immigrants and their families about how to avoid falling victim to predatory behavior.

As an immigration attorney who’s been practicing for nearly 15 years, Adriana Pereyra has seen countless clients seeking a new life in the U.S.

But coupled with a national political landscape that’s grown increasingly volatile and a record number of migrants entering the U.S. through the southern border, that job has been made much more difficult.

Fewer than 10 months remain until the Nov. 5 general election, and the surge of border crossings has become a fever pitch issue central to the 2024 presidential campaign.

The national discourse on immigration has also opened the door for some bad actors to prey on naive immigrants who lack a full understanding of the legal system or are fearful of being deported, said Pereyra, a Las Vegas-based attorney who last week hosted a workshop for nearly two dozen immigrants and their loved ones about how to avoid falling victim to predatory behavior.

“I’ve been getting more and more people who are having issues with false promises,” Pereyra said. “I think there’s a lot of miscommunication out in the community. And so it’s really important to kind of put it out there to be careful and what to look out for.”

Pereyra said her goal with the workshops wasn’t to gain clients but to raise awareness that nearly every migrant, regardless of their legal status, had options and that an ethical attorney would be honest and transparent with any client from the start.

“I think there’s probably always been people who take advantage of immigrants. Because they don’t know their rights, they don’t know where they can go, they don’t know that they can complain; they don’t know that they have a recourse,” she said. “Even if they do know that they have a recourse, a lot of times they fear reporting, they fear retaliation, they fear that they might call Immigration (Customs and Enforcement) on them.”

When it comes to dealing with an immigration attorney, it’s important to get a copy of the retainer agreement and to get in writing what services are to be expected, Pereyra said. It’s also important to establish what that lawyer’s retainer fee is and to ask for specific payment terms as well as a receipt after each consultation.

Additionally, Pereyra advised, it’s vital for clients to retain copies of any documents they sign or receive from the lawyer for that person’s own records. If an attorney ever threatens to report a client to ICE, Pereyra recommends registering a complaint against the attorney with the American Bar Association.

Most immigrants, she said, have three pathways to citizenship: a family sponsor, a work permit or a special visa, which is often granted to escape persecution or violence in that person’s home country.

“Generally, if you don’t qualify under any of these categories, there’s really nothing out there that you’re going to qualify for,” Pereyra said.

Pereyra said she’s had to take clients by the hand and explain that while as their lawyer she can’t guarantee a client will be granted legal status, she will explore every option to make citizenship a reality. But another challenge in dealing with immigrant clients, especially from those hailing from Latin America, is convincing them to trust in the immigration system.

Many migrants grew up not holding any faith in their government; many others got their information via word of mouth, sometimes turning rumors into perceived facts, Pereyra said.

“You’re not going to let your comadre (midwife) diagnose you with cancer, or if you’ve been diagnosed with cancer you’re not going to let your comadre tell you what treatment you’re going to need,” Pereyra said. “You’re likely going to go to a professional. Even if she recommends something, you’re going to verify that with someone who’s experienced.

Asylum claims make up the bulk of that third category, though the Biden administration is reportedly mulling possible executive action that would bar migrants who step onto U.S. soil illegally from being ineligible to claim asylum. That would be a stark departure from the longtime norm of giving anyone who enters the country the right to ask for a safe haven.

The rumored move is a similar tactic attempted by former President Donald Trump, a Republican, in 2018. He was heavily criticized by Democrats at the time and ultimately blocked by federal courts. Reporting from The New York Times suggests Biden, a Democrat, would cite a 1952 law that would suspend immigration for anyone deemed “detrimental to the interests of the United States.”

The action would almost assuredly be challenged in court, but it would give Biden a possible boost politically after Republicans for years have painted him as weak on immigration enforcement — despite GOP members of the U.S. House who recently killed a bipartisan bill that would have capped the number of migrant crossings per day and allocated resources to increase staffing of border personnel and asylum officers.

Pereyra has described the immigration policy under Biden as murky and inconsistent. She lamented one example in whicha married couple had virtually the same claim for asylum and one was granted while the other wasn’t.

But Biden’s approach is still a step in the right direction compared with his predecessor, she said. Pereyra praised last year’s deployment of a smartphone app that allows migrants to begin their asylum claim from their home country rather than starting their claim once they arrive in the U.S.

“It’s a chaotic system,” Pereyra said. But she stressed it would be better than the alternative of a second Trump term.

“I think if Trump were to win, for sure it would be harder,” Pereyra continued. “His whole presidency was very hard because things that would normally get approved didn’t get approved. People who had old deportation orders were getting deported. There was a lot of inhumane treatment.”

The Washington Post reported Wednesday of a potential renewed push by Trump to use the military in part to launch “the largest domestic deportation operation in American history” if he returns to power. Such an effort would face a bottleneck of migrant detention, a problem some Trump allies have reportedly proposed to address by building “mass deportation camps.”

“Americans can expect that immediately upon President Trump’s return to the Oval Office, he will restore all of his prior policies, implement brand new crackdowns that will send shock waves to all the world’s criminal smugglers, and marshal every federal and state power necessary to institute the largest deportation operation in American history,” said Trump campaign spokeswoman Karoline Leavitt in a statement to The Post, adding that undocumented immigrants “should not get comfortable because very soon they will be going home.”

The Post report also detailed claims that Trump would sign an executive order on his first day in office to withhold passports, Social Security numbers and other federal benefits to children of undocumented immigrants who were born in the U.S.

It’s likely that each of those efforts could face legal challenges.

“He (Biden) hasn’t done as much as we would like, that’s for sure,” Pereyra said. “But even with that, the environment isn’t as bad as it was and as it can be if Trump comes to power.”



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