There are many important reasons why clients should not withhold important information from their attorneys. In my years working as an immigration attorney I have encountered people that, for one reason or another, have decided to hide important information that would have avoided problems in the future. Most people that fit this category are actually well-intentioned people that are extremely embarrassed by their past. Of course, there are some that think (or hope) that by not disclosing an arrest, that somehow no one will realize it. Hopefully the client feels comfortable enough with their attorney to confide in them very personal details about their past, especially when they have had any contact with the criminal justice system. The attorney also plays an important role in extracting some of this information and bringing the issue to the floor so an open and honest conversation can follow. It’s important that the applicant understand that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will require fingerprints to be taken as part of the application. At our office, not only do we ask every client whether they have ever been arrested or convicted whether in the United States or any part of the world, but we also have them complete a questionnaire that has several questions geared towards eliciting this type of information.
When in doubt, we have clients complete an FBI Identification Record, often referred to as a Criminal History Record or Rap Sheet. The FBI Rap Sheet is a listing of certain information taken from fingerprint submissions retained by the FBI in connection with arrests and, in some instances, federal employment, naturalization, or military service. Once submitted, the results normally arrive within 30-60 days. We recently had a case where the client mentioned that he “might have had” an arrest for being drunk in public many years ago. When the FBI Rap Sheet came back, it turns out that the arrest was for defrauding a taxi driver of his fare (while he was drunk). He was convicted of this offense which had greater immigration implications than a simple drunk in public offense since it had elements of “fraud” and “theft”.
No one wants to hear for the first time, coming from an immigration officer, “tell me about this arrest in ….”. I’ve had that happen to me a couple of times and it is not a good experience. In the best of cases the newly discovered conviction does not present any major problems (apart from the credibility issue) because it is not a ground of inadmissibility or deportability. In the worst of cases, the client never should have applied for an immigration benefit to begin with and the person now finds himself in deportation proceedings.
In all, the client’s interests are better served by having an open and honest conversation about these topics. Although momentarily uncomfortable for the client, being straightforward about their past can not only save them thousands of dollars in legal fees, but a lot of heartache for them and their family in the future.