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In the post-Sept. 11 world of immigration practice, business is robust but stressful as rules once largely ignored are now enforced with iron-fist firmness. That is the consensus of immigration lawyers in Buffalo and the Capital Region in New York state, where for reasons of simple geography border cases are numerous. Practitioners are finding that the hurdles are higher, and the lines longer as more foreign-born clients are discovering a need for counsel. A year ago, people seeking visitor passes or student visas got what they needed for little more than the asking. Now, they are sometimes required to jump through hoops. “I am encountering a lot of really desperate people trying to find out if there is some way to make their status legal,” said immigration attorney Jill Nagy of Bartle, McGrane, Duffy & Jones in Troy, N.Y. “The volume has just increased tremendously with people who, in the past, were not particularly bothered by their status. Now they feel some urgency to do something about it, but there isn’t much they can do.” Nagy said that before Sept. 11, 2001, visitors were routinely admitted for six months. Lately, a three-month pass is about as good as it gets, and often visitors are allowed to remain for only one month. In addition, Nagy said, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) is less reluctant to let go once it has its grasp on a detainee. “What I’ve noticed is INS is much more likely to detain somebody and require extremely high bond on deportation cases, people who are not dangerous and previously would have been released on their own recognizance or on a $500 bond,” she said. “Now, they are kept and asked for a $10,000 bond.” Consider the case of Ansar Mahmood. Mahmood, 24, a green card-carrying Pakistani, made the mistake of asking someone to take his picture at a scenic overlook of the Hudson River. Unfortunately, the scene also included a water treatment plant and a guard at a nearby post wondered if the foreigner had mischief in mind and called the police. Within two days, the FBI concluded there was no indication that Mahmood had terrorist aims or sympathies. However, a deeper probe revealed that he had helped find a place to live for some Pakistani friends who had overstayed their visas. That made him guilty of harboring an illegal immigrant. Today, Mahmood is being held at the Federal Detention Facility in Batavia, N.Y., a small Genesee County community between Buffalo and Rochester, and fighting deportation. “Mahmood was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Gerald P. Seipp, a partner at Serotte, Reich & Seipp, one of the major immigration practices in Buffalo and the firm representing Mahmood. “He was a legal immigrant, but his visitors had overstayed their visas. Clearly, but for 9/11, I don’t think they would have bothered to prosecute him. But post-9/11, he came to the government’s attention. There are millions of illegal aliens in the country. If they start prosecuting people who help them in one way or another, we are going to have an awful lot of people in jail.” Also coming under government scrutiny are the thousands of Americans and non-Americans who routinely cross the busy Peace Bridge spanning the Niagara River between Buffalo, N.Y., and Fort Erie, Ontario. A year ago, travelers were examined only by Canadian authorities when they crossed into Canada, and only by U.S. authorities when they entered the United States. Now, the Americans are looking closely at those leaving as well as entering the United States. FOREIGN STUDENTS Coincidentally, Seipp was teaching a course on immigration law at the University at Buffalo School of Law when the World Trade Center was hit. He said the post-attack crackdown also is having an impact on students, particularly the thousands who commute from Canada to classes at U.S. colleges, including several in the Buffalo area. After Sept. 11, INS issued a security directive that would have barred Canadian and Mexican students from part-time enrollment in U.S. colleges. Under existing law, foreigners entering the U.S. to study part time are between the proverbial rock and hard place. They cannot be classified as visitors, and they cannot qualify as students unless they carry a full load of at least 12 credits. However, authorities routinely made exceptions at border points like Buffalo — until, that is, last Sept. 11. Last spring, INS announced it was barring part-time students, a move that provoked outrage from members of Congress as well as students who had already enrolled and colleges that were counting on their tuition payments A few weeks ago, the INS withdrew its initial plan and replaced it with new rules, under which part-time Canadian and Mexican students can continue to study at INS-approved colleges within 75 miles of the border through Dec. 31 and currently enrolled students can take new courses, but may not change their major or specialty. No new enrollees will be permitted. A HARDER LINE Michael B. Berger of Berger & Berger, a prominent immigration firm in Buffalo, N.Y., said the issue over part-time students is indicative of an immigration policy that has grown far more enforcement-oriented over the past year. “Things have changed at the border significantly,” he said. “Applying for a change in status from visitor to student is much, much more difficult. People seeking to extend visitor visas are finding it tougher. A change that is coming involves so-called ‘landed immigrants,’ which are the Canadian equivalent of permanent residents. Landed immigrants of British Commonwealth countries in Canada, until now, didn’t need visas to enter the U.S. Later this year, that privilege will end and they will need visas.” Berger doubts the stricter rules will impede professional terrorists. “The question is: Will it make America safer?” he said. “While this is great window dressing and great public relations, terrorists who want to get into this country will still get into this country. What it has done is create a false sense of security.” Jan H. Brown, an attorney in Manhattan who chairs the New York State Bar Association’s Immigration and Nationality Committee, said his experience suggests the government has adopted a far more rigid, and to some extent discriminatory, posture. “It is a harsher attitude and I have encountered discrimination against people from the Middle East in hearings and in adjudication of applications,” Brown said. “There is a hardening of attitudes more than a change of law. A person coming from Sweden isn’t affected the way a person from Yemen or Syria would be. It’s almost like an iron curtain has descended on our country and we are trying to keep out a lot of foreigners who we’re afraid of.” Duane Kennison, assistant officer in charge of the INS office in Albany, N.Y., does not dispute the attorneys’ conclusion that the agency is taking a harder line. However, the practical impact on the general public is virtually nil, he said. “In the grand scheme of things, I think the attorneys’ observation — that we are looking a little closer and being more careful — is true, not to say we weren’t always careful,” Kennison said. “What is different is how we approach things. Anything in the past that was ‘business as usual,’ we’ve looked at. As far as how it impacts service, I don’t think any changes we made would be something the public would be aware of.” APPLICATION IS SHIFTING Attorneys say that while the laws have generally not changed, the application of those laws is shifting — making it difficult to advise clients. “The adjudication of a petition is subjective,” Berger said. “Some guy reads it and decides if you get a visa or not. You don’t know from day to day if your case will be approved. I think the immigration service has always been enforcement oriented and conservative, and this gives them an excuse to be more enforcement oriented. This has become a very, very stressful practice. You just don’t know what you can tell your clients.”

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