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< Back to current issue of Immigration Daily < Back to current issue of Immigrant's Weekly

by Cyrus D. Mehta

The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) organizes an annual conference for its members each year. This year the conference was held in Chicago from June 14-18, 2000, and was attended by over 2,700 attorneys. Every topic concerning immigration was discussed. Several officials representing the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Department of State and Department of Labor were also on panels. Immigration judges also spoke. Unfortunately, important government officials such as the INS Commissioner and General Counsel were unable to make it to the conference due to disruption in flights on the first two days of the conference. Nevertheless, the conference was still a success as important information and ideas were disseminated over five days.

Here are some of the important highlights.

AILA's Advocacy Director, Judy Golub, informed attendees that the H-1B legislation was stalled due to partisan politics in light of the upcoming elections. However, public opinion in support of increased visa numbers was positive, along with (Federal Reserve Chairman, Alan) Greenpan's comments that immigration was one way to reduce the tight labor market in the U.S.

Although Congress has about 45 days left, the budget needs to get passed so it may remain in session until October 2000. Due to the elections, members across parties are not talking to each other, according to Golub. Even the Republican leadership in the House is divided and is unable to forge a consensus with the Republican leadership in the Senate. The Senate is expected to vote on the Abraham-Hatch H-1B bill (S. 2045) before the July 4th weekend.

In the House, the situation is more complex. Although House Judiciary Committee Chairman Smith has bulldozed his not-too-popular H-1B proposal, the Drier-Lofgren bill (H.R. 3983) is the better alternative. If H.R. 3983 is put before the House, it will pass by a majority of votes because it enjoys bipartisan support from Democrats and Republicans. Unfortunately, the Republican leadership is stalling this initiative because it wants to take credit for the H-1B cap increase before the elections.

Ms. Golub urged the audience at the plenary session to advocate that H.R. 3983 is put on the House floor for a vote. She also stated that AILA was actively advocating the advance of the registry date to 1986, introduction of NACARA parity legislation as well as restoration of 245(i), along with the H-1B bill.

Please contact your Representatives and urge them to reform IIRAIRA by supporting H.R. 3272 and H.R. 1485. Urge your Senators to contact the offices of Senators Kennedy and Graham to support their efforts.

Senior Labor Department official, Jim Norris, announced the introduction of the PERM program, which will take effect on April 1, 2001. This program will essentially put into effect an attestation system very similar to labor condition applications accompanying an H-1B petition. Instead of the Labor Department supervising or reviewing an employer's recruitment efforts, the employer would have to check off boxes on a form indicating that it has conducted a good faith recruitment to employ a U.S. worker. Under the new system called "PERM," the labor certification application would be faxed into a DOL computerized system and be approved in as little as seven days.

Mr. Norris further stated that some applications would be audited if they raised significant concerns. Once an application went down the audit path, the Labor Department would supervise recruitment on behalf of the employer.

Mr. Norris also acknowledged that it would be impossible to have the PERM system and the existing system at the same time. The DOL was therefore making intense efforts to eliminate its entire backlog by September 2001. In the meantime, the Labor Department will soon promulgate a regulation that will allow regular labor certification cases to be converted into a fast track "Request for Reduction" case without loss of the earlier priority date. This would further enable the Labor Department to reduce its backlog. The proposed regulations were submitted to the Office of Management and Budget, which came back with minor comments. These have been addressed and returned to OMB.

There were about 100 panels over the five days of the conference. The panels discussed basic as well as esoteric topics within the fields of business immigration, family immigration, asylum, federal court litigation, ethical issues, and citizenship, to name a few.

All of this firm's attorneys attended the conference. This writer moderated a super advance panel called "Preparing Marriage-Based Immigration Cases." The panel explored when the INS would recognize non-traditional marriages for granting benefits and greater use of the hardship waiver to remove conditions of permanent residence, especially when the waiver based on the termination of a good faith marriage was unavailable. Senior Associate, Jacqueline Baronian, moderated a panel on asylum and also sits on AILA's Board of Governors by virtue of being this year's AILA-NY Chapter Chair.

The high point of the conference was the American Immigration Law Foundation's (AILF) gala benefit on June 16 to salute the contributions of Chinese immigrants. This benefit was the first initiative of AILF's "American Heritage Project" to research and document the important contributions made by immigrants to American society. AILF plans to honor and document the accomplishments of Irish, Indian and Women immigrants in the future. Among the Chinese Americans honored that evening were Robert Cheng, Concert Master of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Daniel Tsui, Nobel Prize Winner in Physics from Princeton University. Also worth noting was the Board of Immigration Appeals holding two of its hearings at the conference venue - Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers - for the benefit of participants.

Cyrus D. Mehta, a graduate of Cambridge University and Columbia Law School, practices immigration law in New York City.He is the trustee of the American Immigration Law Foundation and recipient of the 1997 Joseph Minsky Young Lawyers Award.He frequently lectures on various immigration subjects at legal seminars, workshops and universities and may be contacted at 212-686-1581 or