I am a citizen of Nigeria, where I was beaten and abused because I am homosexual. It is easy to find articles and reports that say homosexuals are persecuted in my country. Do I need to hire a lawyer?
It is always a good idea to consult with an experienced immigration lawyer when you want to file a claim for asylum and to have the attorney come with you to your asylum interview. Even if your asylum case itself is straightforward, experienced immigration attorneys can spot other possible issues that might come up during your interview, for example if you used a fraudulent visa to enter the United States.
Many people who submit a claim for asylum do so without the help of an attorney. Sometimes people hire individuals who are not actual attorneys, but who claim to know the immigration system. These people, often called notarios, may charge less money than a licensed attorney. Some notarios know nothing at all about immigration law. Others might be familiar with the asylum process but might advise you to do things in an unlawful way in hopes that your case will be approved, such as exaggerating your claim or submitting fraudulent documents. Some even offer to sell the documents to you. You could easily end up with a major blot on your immigration record, or even permanently barred from asylum.
That's part of why it is a good idea to have a licensed, knowledgeable attorney helping you through the process. Balance the monetary cost of hiring an attorney against what it will cost you if you do not win your case. Remember, if you win asylum, you win the right to live and work lawfully in the United States. You also will be able to apply for a green card the following year.
Licensed attorneys will have you sign a Notice of Representation, called a G-28 form. This form allows the government to speak with your attorney and allows your attorney to gather information for you. For example, your attorney will be able to contact U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) if a problem arises with your case, and help figure out what is wrong.
If you decide to hire an attorney, it is a good idea to have him or her accompany you to your asylum interview. Attorneys are allowed to take notes at the asylum interview and can make a closing statement summarizing the important parts of your claim.
Also, if your attorney believes the officer forgot to ask an important question, the attorney could ask for permission to question you and help the officer better understand your claim.
If you do not win asylum at the interview, and you are referred to immigration court, your attorney will already be familiar with the details of your case.
For more information, see Nolo's articles on "Choosing, Hiring, or Firing an Immigration Attorney."