When people come for a consultation, they want me to tell them how they or their loved one can stay in the United States – preferably with a green card and with the option for U.S. citizenship. This may be possible and it may even be relatively easy. But what if there’s absolutely no way to get to that ideal finish line? Is it a failure if we can keep someone in the United States, but without documentation? Is it a success if someone still has to return home?

One of the reasons I enjoy practicing immigration law is that I get to be creative. Immigration law is complex and draconian, but there can also be lesser-known sections of the law that I can use to help a family. I’ve never liked taking no for an answer, and unless I’ve exhausted all possibilities or the law is 100% clear, I don’t give up trying to find a way to get a solution.

For many of my clients, success is getting U.S. citizenship or getting a green card. But we also work with clients who have extremely difficult cases – cases that look “unwinnable” at first glance. For example, an asylum case in the Atlanta Immigration Court has about a 5% chance of approval. While we fight and believe in every asylum case, the reality is that many of our cases will not be granted by the Immigration Judge. Instead, we have to strategize about how to keep someone in the United States for as long as possible. A “win” may not be a granting of asylum, but the ability to appeal and stay in the U.S. a few extra months before being forced to return to home.

For some of our most difficult cases, sometimes a “win” is simply being left alone. In some instances, it is legally impossible for someone in the United States to gain status while here, or even if they return home, they would be barred from the United States for a decade or more. If such a person is caught by ICE and placed in removal proceedings, the chances are very good that he or she has no legal way to fight and stay in the United States. The “win” happens when ICE attorneys decide to exercise prosecutorial discretion and close or terminate the deportation case. The client doesn’t receive a work card, they don’t receive any sort of legal status – in essence, they go back to living under the radar just like before. But, at least they’re here in the country with their family.

In Immigration Court, the granting of Voluntary Departure may be a “win.” Voluntary Departure means the person still needs to leave the United States, but they can leave on their own terms. They can wrap-up their affairs, sell their belongings and make arrangements for life back in the home country. They still need to leave, but they can leave with some dignity. Plus, they leave without having a deportation order. If they ever want to return to the United States with a visa, not having a deportation order on their record will make their future case much easier.

Being able to stay in the United States for more time, being able to stay despite having been placed in removal proceedings, and even getting voluntary departure can all be considered successes. They all fall short of the common goal of a green card or U.S. citizenship, but they may be the best that can be done in certain cases. It’s important to understand the limitations of your case and for your attorney to be realistic about the best possible outcome. Success can be defined in many different ways.

– Tracie