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In the eye of the storm — that’s where you’ll find Laura Foote Reiff as the debate over immigration-reform legislation rages on. The 42-year-old Greenberg Traurig partner is busy behind the scenes and in front of the television cameras. As co-chair of the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition, she stays in daily contact with the White House, members of Congress, and the business community. “No one has worked harder on immigration reform than Laura,” says John Gay, a fellow co-chair of the EWIC and the senior vice president of government affairs and public policy for the National Restaurant Association. “When the law finally passes, it will have Laura’s fingerprints all over it.” Reiff herself describes the effort as “super-duper-draining,” but adds, “I love it.” That’s good, because lobbying on immigration legislation is not her only work. Reiff also maintains a vigorous corporate immigration practice, wowing clients with her dedication and effectiveness in matters large and small. “She has this calm assuredness about her,” says Elizabeth Dickson, immigration-services adviser for Ingersoll-Rand Co. Dickson recalls what happened when a Ingersoll-Rand employee who held a green card was denied readmission to the United States after a trip to England. Immigration officials incorrectly claimed he was in deportation proceedings. “Laura went into overdrive. She contacted everyone, and we got him back the next day,” says Dickson. “Then she sent a fruit basket to [the official] in St. Louis for being so nice.” “She really cares,” Dickson concludes. “Whether it’s a little incident or a big thing, nothing is too much for her.” Christine Nickerson, senior legal counsel for CVS Corp., agrees that Reiff “feels very passionately about the work she does.” CVS recruits internationally, and Reiff has secured more than 100 H-1B visas for company pharmacists. “She’s really good at what she does,” says Nickerson. “It makes my job immensely easier.” On occasion, Reiff takes a case to court. In 2002 she successfully sued the State Department on behalf of the American Hospitality Academy. The government had attempted to revoke the company’s status as a J-1 visa sponsor for a cultural-exchange program bringing in foreign students interested in the hospitality industry. The State Department claimed that it was a work program, not a training program. But U.S. District Judge Patrick Duffy of South Carolina ruled that the action was arbitrary and capricious. The program was reinstated in 2003, and the court awarded the plaintiffs $188,000 in attorney fees in 2004. “It was justice,” Reiff says. Reiff began working on immigration reform legislation in 1999, when she co-founded the EWIC. The group, whose members include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and dozens of other trade associations and businesses, supports reforms that would create new short- and long-term visas, based on business needs, that would allow undocumented workers to earn legal status. “This is the largest domestic policy issue, and it needs to be dealt with,” says Reiff. Gay says that as one of the few technical experts involved in the process, Reiff is invaluable. “She has the ability to look at a bill and immediately understand what it does and doesn’t do, and how a seemingly good idea on paper doesn’t fit when put into law,” he says. “I don’t know where we’d be without her.” Reiff graduated from George Washington University Law School in 1989 and went to work for Arent Fox in the firm’s international group. While an associate, she worked pro bono on behalf of 70,000 Chinese students in the United States who feared political persecution if they were forced to return home after the Tiananmen Square protests. In 1992, Reiff helped secure passage of the Chinese Student Protection Act, which granted permanent residency to the students. That year she moved to Baker & McKenzie, and in 1999 she joined Greenberg Traurig as a partner. Working out of the Tysons Corner, Va., and D.C. offices, she currently co-chairs the firm’s 14-lawyer immigration practice. To be a good immigration attorney, “you have to be a people person, to like holding people’s hands — well, not literally,” she laughs. “But you’ll get e-mails at all times of the night and calls from the consulate. People’s lives hang in the balance.”

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