Local News

Immigration lawyer: Getting legal status in US long, costly process

Posted February 22, 2017 6:53 p.m. EST

— The phones at Rebekah Grafton's law office in Raleigh have been ringing off the hook lately, as President Donald Trump's crackdown on illegal immigration ramps up pressure on people who aren't in the country legally.

"It's kind of turned into the last couple weeks towards people who are here and possibly having orders of removal and criminal histories or really just being here for a long time and not having their papers taken care of yet," Grafton said Wednesday.

Getting one's legal status taken care of takes a lot of money and patience, she said.

"It's a really expensive process. I mean, you are talking about thousands of dollars," she said.

Between application fees and legal costs, she said, people will spend at least $5,000 to get into the U.S. from another country.

People seeking a visa, residency or citizenship also need to know someone in the U.S., Grafton said.

"Generally, you need a petitioner, whether that is an employer or that is a family member, and that person is going to have to go through a process to file a visa petition for you here in the U.S.," she said.

Getting a visa could take anywhere from a few months to 25 years, she said.

"If your brother or sister is stuck abroad and they are fearing gang violence or they're being extorted, or they really are afraid for their life and coming to the U.S., they don't have 25 years to wait for a visa. That's just not practical," she said.

Many of her clients came to the U.S. on student visas to study and then decided to stay, she said. In those cases, the process isn't as lengthy or costly, and they can stay in the country while everything gets processed.

For those who came to the U.S. illegally to begin with, they usually have to go back to their home country, go through the consular process and then run the risk of never getting back in, she said, adding that alone is enough to scare many from going through the process.

"We hear the same thing a lot, 'We want people to come here the right way,' and what really is the right way?" she said.

Grafton and the other immigration attorneys have been going to community meetings to help anyone who may have questions.

"People need to know what they can and can't do, what they should and shouldn't do," she said.