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The ABCs of Immigration - Private Bills
by Greg Siskind

Private are special pieces of legislation that are passed to confer permanent residency on a particular individual or a small group of individuals. The private bill is rarely successful and is generally only possible in very compelling cases. But recently three clients of Siskind, Susser, Haas and Devine ("SSHD") were successful in getting private bills granted.

One of the cases involved the Salinas family. The Salinas family originally came from Bolivia to Memphis, Tennessee so that little Gabriela Salinas could receive treatment for cancer at the world famous St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. After arriving in Memphis, a second even greater tragedy befell the family. While Gabriella was in the hospital, the rest of the family was involved in a serious car accident. Gabriella’s father and one of her siblings were killed. While two of her brothers survived, her mother was left paralyzed. In order to help the family at least be able to piece together a new life, Senator Fred Thomas agreed to act as a sponsor of a private bill. Even though the bill enjoyed the strong support of St. Jude, Marlo Thomas, the famous actress and daughter of St. Jude founder Danny Thomas and even officials at the INS, getting the bill passed was no easy task.

SSHD also had two different clients that was part of a group of 54 families that were included in a private bill for Persian Gulf Evacuees. Representative Nick Rahall (D-WV) introduced this bill to help Kuwaiti families of Palestinian origin who were unable to obtain legal status following their evacuation from Kuwait during the Gulf War. Many of the evacuees had provided shelter to Americans caught in Iraq when the war started, actions that put them at risk of retaliation from the Iraqi government.

During the past year, Congress passed 17 private immigration bills granting permanent residency to a small number of individuals. Private bills are a rare form of relief from immigration laws and are generally reserved for the most compelling cases. In the legislative process, private bills are treated like any other law, going though the committee process to a vote by the full Congress. However, getting a private bill introduced is not easy. The immigration subcommittees in both the House of Representatives and the Senate have detailed rules on what is required for the introduction of such a bill.

The most essential step in obtaining a private bill is, of course, finding a member of Congress willing to sponsor the bill. Following the introduction of the bill, information about the person it will benefit needs to be supplied to the chair of the immigration subcommittee by the member of Congress sponsoring the bill. The procedure from there is much the same as it is with other legislation.

In addition to the clients of SSHD mentioned above, the stories behind some of the other private bills passed this year follow:

Wei Jingsheng. Senator Spencer Abraham (R-MI) introduced a private bill to grant permanent residence in the US to of this Chinese national who spent 29 years in prison in China because of his pro-democracy activities. Jingsheng was released by authorities to seek medical treatment in the US in 1997.

Jacqueline Salinas and her children Gabriela, Alejandro and Omar. Senator Fred Thompson (R-TN) introduced a private bill to grant permanent residence to this family. They originally came to the US to seek treatment for Gabriela’s cancer at the St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN. While here, the family was in a car wreck that killed Mr. Salinas and another child.

Persian Gulf Evacuees. Representative Nick Rahall (D-WV) introduced a private bill to help 54 families who were unable to obtain legal status following their evacuation from Kuwait during the Gulf War. Many of the evacuees had provided shelter to Americans caught in Iraq when the war started, actions that put them at risk of retaliation from the Iraqi government.

Guy Taylor. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced a private bill to obtain permanent residence for this young man. He was born in Canada but spent most of his life in the US. His father died before he was born, and after he and his mother moved back to Canada, she died of a drug overdose. Taylor returned to live with his grandmother in California, but was unable to seek permanent residence on his own because he was under 21, and because he was over 16 he could not be adopted by his grandmother. [Editor's Note: See Private Bill: Against All Odds - Guy Taylor Granted Green Card by Carl Shusterman]

Tony Lara. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced a private bill to obtain permanent residence for Tony. In 1990, Tony, along with his parents and sister, fled El Salvador during the country’s civil war. His mother was deported and died trying to reenter the US. His father turned to drugs, abandoned his children and was eventually deported. A neighbor family took Tony and his sister in, and adopted his sister, but could not afford to adopt Tony. Tony was taken in by the wrestling coach at his high school, and went on to win the state wrestling championship for his class.

Jose Guadalupe Tellez Pinales. Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) introduced a private bill to obtain permanent residence for Jose. Jose entered the US with his parents when he was three years old. After his father died, his mother left him with a great-uncle. The uncle later obtained citizenship, and mistakenly thought it would make Jose a citizen as well. By the time they realized the mistake, Jose was too old to be adopted, and without any recourse to legalized his status in the US.

Saeed Rezai. Representative Chris Cannon (R-UT) introduced a private bill to obtain permanent residence for Mrs. Rezai, an Iranian national. She entered the US in 1986 as a student, and later married a US citizen. She obtained conditional permanent residence, but was divorced before the conditions were removed. She filed a request for a waiver of the requirement that an application for removal of conditions be filed by both spouses, but it was denied, as was her application for asylum. Mrs. Rezai later married another US citizen, but the application for adjustment was denied because her spouse had previously been found to have committed marriage fraud. In the meantime, Mrs. Rezai developed multiple sclerosis.

The Congressmen who support private bills do a tremendous amount of work to ensure their passage, and without their efforts, those who benefit from the bills would most likely be forced to leave the US.

About The Author

Gregory Siskind has experience handling all aspects of immigration and nationality law and has represented numerous clients throughout the world. Mr. Siskind provides consultations to corporations and individuals on immigration law issues and handles cases before the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Department of State, the Department of Labor and other government agencies. Gregory Siskind is also committed to community service. He regularly provides free legal services to indigent immigration clients and speaks at community forums to offer information on immigration issues. After graduating magna cum laude from Vanderbilt University, Gregory Siskind went on to receive his law degree from the University of Chicago. For the past several years, he has been an active member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and he currently serves as a member of the organization's Technology Committee. He is the current committee chair for the Nashville Bar Association's International Section. Greg is a member of the American Bar Association where he serves on the LPM Publishing Board as Marketing Vice Chairman and on the Council of the Law Practice Management Section. He is also a member of the Tennessee Bar Association, the Nashville Bar Association and the Memphis Bar Association. He serves on the board of the British American Business Association of Tennessee. And he serves on the Board of Directors of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and on the executive boards of the Jewish Family Service agencies in Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee. He recently was named one of the Top 40 executives under age 40 in his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee.

Greg regularly writes on the subject of immigration law. He has written several hundred articles on the subject and is also the author of the new book The J Visa Guidebook, published by Matthew Bender and Company, one of the nation's leading legal publishers. He is working on another book for Matthew Bender on entertainment and sports immigration.

Greg is also, in many ways, a pioneer in the use of the Internet in the legal profession. He was one of the first lawyers in the country (and the very first immigration lawyer) to set up a web site for his practice. And he was the first attorney in the world to distribute a firm newsletter via e-mail listserv. Mr. Siskind is the author of the American Bar Association's best selling book, The Lawyer's Guide to Marketing on the Internet. He has been interviewed and profiled in a number of leading publications and media including USA Today, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Lawyers Weekly, the ABA Journal, the National Law Journal, American Lawyer, Law Practice Management Magazine, National Public Radio's All Things Considered and the Washington Post. As one of the leading experts in the country on the use of the Internet in a legal practice, Greg speaks regularly at forums across the United States, Canada and Europe.

In his personal life, Greg is the husband of Audrey Siskind and the proud father of Eden Shoshana and Lily Jordana. He also enjoys collecting rare newspapers and running in marathons and triathlons. He can be reached by email at


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