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After 12 long months, H. Taufiq Choudhury is still putting back the pieces of his solo immigration practice — one document at a time. It has not been easy. For 10 years, Choudhury says, he enjoyed 20 percent growth yearly. Now, for the first time since he hung out his shingle, he is losing money. Ironically, the months immediately following the disaster were all right, Choudhury says, “because I was still collecting” on matters billed before Sept. 11, 2001. But from January on, “I have been in the red.” When Choudhury awoke on Sept. 11, 2001, in his home in Jersey City, N.J., a stone’s throw across the Hudson River from downtown Manhattan, he had no idea how his fortunes would change. Though he usually went to the office on the 22nd floor of the north tower early each morning, he stayed home a bit later that day to say goodbye to his wife and children who were leaving that night to visit relatives in Bangladesh. That decision may have saved his life. Before he was ready to leave, “I heard the first tower come down from inside my house,” Choudhury recalls. He went outside to see what was happening, and “saw the second tower standing there by itself. It was an amazing, unreal sight,” he says. Concerned about his staff, he quickly sent e-mails and made phone calls; it took a few hours to track down all three of his employees. One had stopped at a law library on his way in to work, and therefore had not arrived at the site until after the first plane crashed into the north tower. The two others had turned back before they reached the building. In the nightmarish days that followed, Choudhury, who has a solo immigration practice, worked for a while out of his house and scrambled to find a new office. He signed a two-year lease for space in midtown Manhattan, but he has never felt at home there. “I am like a stranger in that part of the city,” he says. Despite everything that has happened, he hopes to return to the downtown area as soon as his lease expires. Especially vexing for Choudhury have been the bureaucratic stumbling blocks he must grapple with. His files, destroyed on Sept. 11, contained about a half-dozen original labor certificates, issued by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). “The certificates show that the employer could not find a U.S. citizen to fill the position” for which the foreigner would be hired. “The INS won’t take a copy,” says Choudhury. “Of the 6,000 or so documents I lost, I most regret those 10 pages or so.” He applied for replacement of them as long ago as last December, but none has come through. “The INS must request it from the DOL. It is very hard to get [them] to talk to each other.” He has spent 30 percent to 40 percent of his time obtaining replacements for file documents. All of that time “is without remuneration. I tell myself that the grants are helping to cover it.” He has received some city and state grants, but they do not make up for his losses. GENERAL ECONOMIC WOES Choudhury attributes most of his problems to the sudden drop in the economy. Much of his practice revolves around helping foreign workers and employers obtain visas. “No jobs, no visas,” he says. While he has weathered other economic ups and downs in the past, “they were gradual. Not like this sudden drop.” Now, a year after a fluke of luck saved him from being at work on Sept. 11, Choudhury says, “I am spending more than I earn by coming to work.” He worries that if this keeps up, he will have to give up his solo practice and has contemplated working for government or a private immigration service. “I’d hate to do that,” he says. But he “can’t imagine working in someone else’s law firm.”

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