Being a US immigration lawyer is a little like being a therapist. Each day, I listen to people’s immigration stories and offer advice, empathy and words of encouragement. Sometimes, however, I also have to offer a dose of reality.

Many immigration clients think that their story is unique, that they are experiencing unusual hardship and that they are entitled to “special” treatment by the government. This is especially true of US citizens who are sponsoring a loved one for a green card; it is hard to explain to a US taxpayer why her government is keeping her family separated.

The reality is, however, that not every situation is special, unique or particularly hard — at least with regard to immigration law. Most people pay exorbitant fees (for example, the filing fee for an adjustment of status green card case is over $1500), wait in ridiculously long virtual lines (a spousal green card case can take over a year) and have very little recourse if a case is denied (especially abroad).

A US immigration lawyer will field immigration expedite requests routinely. Each lawyer must come up with a policy to handle expedite requests, as repeatedly asking for preferential treatment will eventually cause a lawyer’s future requests to receive little consideration by immigration officials (a la the “little boy who cried wolf”). That is not to say, however, that requesting expedited processing is inappropriate in every case. Life-threatening or serious medical conditions, backed by hard evidence, may eventually push a case to the front of the line. I say eventually because response times for expedite requests are unpredictable.

USCIS has recently issued guidance for expedited cases which a US immigration lawyer or pro per applicant may find useful. First, all expedite requests are decided on a case-by-case basis and the Director has the final say on whether an expedite request will be granted. To qualify for an expedite, the person must prove severe financial loss to company or individual; extreme emergent situation; humanitarian situation; nonprofit status of requesting organization in furtherance of the cultural and social interests of the US; Defense Dept. or national interest situation; USCIS error or a compelling interest of USCIS.