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Dear Editor:
I would like to take a middle of the road position between Attorney Murray and Gisela Boecker with regard to the alleged impersonal and careless treatment they experienced at the hands of the Tampa INS office and Texas Service Center.

I have been "practicing" immigration law for 15 years - first as a senior paralegal in a lawfirm and more recently as a corporate, in-house immigration specialist. If Mr. Murray has never seen anything like what Mrs. Boecker describes in 24 years of practicing, I would say he has been extremely fortunate. Far from a "bunch of bunk" misinformation and capriciousness reign supreme in INS district offices and service centers, and for a very understandable, if not justifiable reason. I would say that, with the exception of high-level supervisors, individual INS info officers do not have a grasp of all the laws and regulations and are not trained to provide legal advice and strategy. As Mr. Murray correctly points out, it behooves any would-be immigrant to seek competent, legal counsel - but finding it can present its own set of problems. As those who repudiate "unauthorized practice" well know, there is a big difference between simply helping someone to fill out forms and giving sound legal advice, which takes into account the totality of an alien's circumstances (such as children abroad) and all possible consequences. As a compromise, however, wouldn't it be nice if Service personnel would be humble enough to admit that they are not competent to provide legal advice, and refer people to the Immigration Bar, rather than arrogantly misleading those who are simply trying to do the right thing.

I know of what I speak. Recently I phoned the VSC to ask advice about concurrent I-140/I-485 filings - specificially which box to check on the I-485 form. The advice I received was that since the VSC has received no guidance from Washington and has no procedures in place, they are in fact rejecting concurrent filings. I was told only I-140's could be filed. Given the breadth of my experience I know better that to take one supervisor's remarks as gospel, and immediately set about to confirm these rumors with my colleagues in AILA. Two weeks ago, I spoke to an INS airport inspector about an erroneously executed L visa at a Consulate and subsequent I-94 problem. The officer proceeded to explain to me the admission period for L's issued under a Blanket petition. He was completely off base and I might add, erring on the side of giving much more time than that to which the alien was entitled. I had to explain the law to him - him, who is charged with determining an alien's period of lawful admission in the United States!! I later spoke to the Port Director, who of course knew exactly what I was talking about. However, the average Joe has no access to these high level INS officers, and they can't possibly service the general public. Last week a "client" of mine almost went beserk in a local INS office when he went to do his I-89 processing and get his passport stamped following the approval of his EB adjustment of status and was told they couldn't do it because he hadn't had an interview and they didn't have his file!! One shouldn't need to take a lawyer in to get a passport stamped! So, Mr. Murray, my hat's off to you, if you have no such vignettes to share.

Unfortunately immigration laws and procedures have become so complex as to require the assistance of legal counsel or an advanced degree to file even the most simple applications. There are those who would say that this is unfair, and we could debate that, but it won't change anything. They are only going to get more complex. I know this because I spend a significant portion of my work day reading to stay abreast of new developments.

I don't think it unreasonable for a visitor or would-be immigrant from a country like Germany to assume that an INS inspector or information officer (as the term implies) will be able to provide accurate information about filing procedures and updated forms, but not legal advice. Furthermore, I think it's logical from the Boeker's perspective, to have then consulted their congressperson. However, again, I would expect the congressperson to refer them to a competent attorney, rather than try to tackle the problem. It is regrettable that many well-meaning Americans, including nonimmigration lawyers and congresspeople, are too often cavalier in their assessment of immigration laws, and as a result downplay the importance of expert advice.

When Mrs. Boecker says they engaged a "professional" we don't know if this was a notary, a lawyer or a charlatan. The Boecker's, too, have to bear some responsibilty for their choices. If they had enough resources to apply for an investor visa, they had enough resources to hire a good lawyer. Mrs. Boecker's editorial does not provide us with enough facts to determine if in fact they were ever entitled to permanent residence in the first place, and does not even say how they determined that they qualified for the intial Alien Labor Certification. The one bad assumption that the Boeckers and many others make is that being good, law-abiding, tax-paying, family-oriented people somehow qualifies you for a green card in this day and age. Do the Turkish Gastarbeiters in Germany enjoy such rights? In response to such naivete, I would have to say, "Get over it!". And, please, leave the anti-terrorist rhetoric to the politicians.

Name Withheld On Request
Corporate in-house immigration specialist