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The focus on changes in immigration law since Sept. 11, 2001, has largely been on the few thousand immigrants, mostly Arab, South Asian and Muslim men, who were arrested last fall on suspicion of being linked to the terrorist attacks. But lawyers who work with the more than 1 million immigrants each year assert that their practices have been dramatically affected. The post-Sept. 11 changes have reached into several critical areas: Businesses are having trouble getting their executives in and out of countries; applications by foreigners to marry U.S. citizens are becoming harder to obtain; and the process for obtaining asylum — a tough procedure before the attacks — has become even tougher. “The things that have changed do not logically derive from Sept. 11, but the environment has changed considerably and it is a post-Sept. 11 change,” says Crystal Williams, the director of liaison and information at the American Immigration Lawyers Association, (AILA). “The adjudicators are applying much stricter standards and there’s not a correlation to any security,” Williams adds. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) agrees. “The overall philosophy behind the law has changed,” says Bill Strassberger, a spokesman. “The threat is still present, and we’re going to remain on guard as long as it takes.” The changes, lawyers say, are not so much related to new laws or regulations, but to how the discretionary power of the government and court are being wielded. While sympathetic to security concerns, lawyers say, the immigration service and immigration judges have become tougher on everyone navigating the system. Among those lawyers who are most frustrated are business lawyers who have had to adjust their agenda to the pace of the INS. The complaints are coming even from those representing Fortune 500 companies, who are struggling to get their executives in and out of the country quickly. “The field is filled with land mines that didn’t used to exist,” says Robert S. Groban Jr., chairman of the immigration law group at Epstein Becker & Green in New York. He notes that after Sept. 11, the immigration service implemented a watch list for certain countries, which delays visas for certain employees by at least 20 days. For example, Groban points to a client who is a senior executive at a major American multinational corporation. The man is a French citizen of Moroccan descent. He used to get his visa in 24 hours. However, to obtain a new visa now, the process has turned into a three- to four-week wait, which can wreak havoc with the schedule of a top executive. “He has been caught in this broad net,” Groban says. “There are legitimate questions about whether the security concerns that lead to this should be provided indiscriminately and whether they are preventing the kinds of behavior they are designed to prevent.” Deborah Notkin, an attorney in New York at Barst & Mukamal, says she’s seen immigrant visa petitions for employees of major U.S. Fortune 500 companies delayed for three months or more. She notes that a client who was to come to the United States for a training program recently has already missed the first part of it. “His petition was started five months ago and we’re still going through security clearances even though they gave him a security clearance a few months before on a visitor’s visa,” Notkin says. Lawyers working for small businesses report even greater troubles. “People are getting blanket statements saying a company your size doesn’t need a manager,” says AILA’s Williams. Carlina Tapia-Ruano, a Chicago attorney at Minsky, McCormick & Hallagan, says that changes in procedure have made the process more demanding for her clients. “When we have to establish that the client has the educational background [that his or her company claims], before I could have submitted a photocopy of the transcript, now I have to submit the certified transcript,” Tapia-Ruano asserts. She notes that in court, the standards are also more rigorous and stricter. “There’s a great deal of discretion the law gives to immigration judges and the government,” Tapia-Ruano notes. “It’s written into the law. But when you have fearful adjudicators or decision-makers, they’re not likely to exercise that discretion for fear of public criticism.” The INS’ Strassberger says that security checks are necessary, given the circumstances. “We’re going to do whatever we can to ensure that we know who is coming here. It may be an inconvenience, but we have to do everything we can.” MARRIAGES DENIED Immigration lawyers handling family law-related cases also say the practice has changed since Sept. 11. “To say that there’s a direct connection to things would be hard, but over the past year there’s definitely been an increased scrutiny of applications,” says Ellen Gorman of Gorman Miotke in St. Petersburg, Fla. She cites an example of what many attorneys agree has become harder — applications for foreigners to marry American citizens. An immigration lawyer who wanted to marry his Latin American girlfriend popped the question while she was here on a visit to her sister who had had a new baby. She said yes, but when she applied for permission to travel outside the country while her papers were being arranged for her marriage, the immigration service denied them. The service said that because she entered as a tourist, she’d committed fraud by not declaring her intent to become an immigrant. “The question was never asked,” Gorman says. “It was just presumed there was fraud.” One area where a rule change has occurred that is causing lawyers headaches is in the issuance of tourist visas. In the past, most visitors automatically obtained one for a six-month period of time. A new policy now limits most visits to 30 days for people who are coming for the purpose of tourism, study or business. If they want an extension, they must extensively document why, says Taupia-Ruano. She is most unhappy with the fact that there’s no appeal and notes that even getting a visa for a grandmother visiting a new grandchild can be tough. “I have had more denials of tourist visas in the last six months than I ever had previously,” she says. Strassberger says of the complaints of lawyers practicing family-related immigration law that the laws are being more strictly enforced but that the agency remains flexible. “It’s going to be up to their credibility,” he says. If the way the immigration laws are being carried out are causing anguish to families, Eleanor Acer of the Lawyer’s Committee for Human Rights says the treatment of asylum seekers is causing real trauma. “I would say even prior to Sept. 11 there was a disturbing lack of due process in many parts of the asylum adjudication and detention procedures for asylum seekers,” says Acer. “What we’ve seen is even a decline in that.” Acer says there are no statistics documenting the number of asylum seekers in detention, though she says, anecdotally, more are being detained than even before while their cases are being heard. Williams adds, “There is a growing feeling that it is getting more difficult to get asylum.” Acer also notes a change as a result of an agreement signed by the United States and Canada last December. In an effort to increase security, the “Joint Statement on Cooperation on Border Security and Regional Migration Issues,” prevents people who initially enter either country from seeking asylum in the other. Because of airline schedules, Acer says, “We’ll end up with a lot of asylum seekers who have close family ties or friends in Canada who will have to apply here and the reverse.” CHANGES TO APPEALS BOARD Acer also points to changes to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) that went into effect this summer. They speed up the decision-making process and eliminate the need for opinions by the board. Acer says the changes are gutting the appellate process for asylum seekers. “They’ve basically created a system where asylum appellees can’t get a meaningful review,” Acer asserts. “The BIA has basically little choice but to rubber stamp the immigration judges’ opinion.” While some of the changes Acer raises are difficult to attribute directly to the terrorist events, they have taken place in the post-Sept. 11 context, which fueled fears that the service was being too loosely run. Strassberger insists that the agency remains committed to providing protection for genuine asylum seekers, though he says it’s a complicated process. “The country has a heritage of providing safe refuge for people fleeing persecution. On the other hand, there’s a history of abuse.” One brighter side to the struggles of immigration attorneys, says Acer, is that many attorneys have continued to step forward to take pro bono cases. “There’s an increased awareness of the need for representation in the immigration area,” Acer says. Unfortunately, says Lisa Spiegel of Spiegel & Associates in San Francisco, nonprofit organizations have felt financially squeezed. She is on the board of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center and says their fundraising ability has been hurt. “People don’t have as much money and the foundations are a little more cautious,” she says. She attributes some of the slowdown in funding dollars to the economy as well. Gorman notes that the troubles with the immigration service haven’t slowed her business in people seeking citizenship. “I haven’t experienced any real prejudices in that area,” she says.

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