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Practicing Immigration Law Post 9-11 - 2003-09-02

In today’s edition of New American Voices, two young attorneys who specialize in immigration law and whose clients are mostly Muslim, talk about the cases they deal with in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

The offices of the two-year-old law firm of Tariq Syed and Karim Hanafy are on the second floor of a nondescript building in one of the numerous small strip malls lining a busy commercial artery on the outskirts of Washington, D.C. The building may be unprepossessing, but the location is a good one, since the ethnically diverse population of the area includes many immigrants from Muslim countries, who are the mainstay of Mr. Syed’s and Mr. Hanafy’s practice. Karim Hanafy says the vast majority of their cases are the result of post-September 11th Immigration and Naturalization Service regulations designed to weed out possible terrorists, which affect mostly Arab and Muslim immigrants.

“No question, since September 11th the biggest issues that come up are anybody who falls out of status right now, such as a violation of their visa. So for all these individuals who are in violation of their immigration status it’s becoming more and more problematic, because these people could now be subject to deportation.”

Mr. Hanafy’s partner, Tariq Syed says that in addition to helping clients who seek to delay deportation or change their immigration status, the law firm deals with a variety of other cases, as well.

“Immigration, there’s basically a few categories. The first is family-based cases, the second is employment-based cases, then there’s asylum cases, and then you have the removal hearings. So what we deal with a lot of times is – with the family cases, someone comes to our office, they’re married to a U.S. citizen, they want to file to get a green card. Those folks, as long as they entered with inspection, even if they’re out of status we can still file for them. We handle a lot of cases like that. Another situation is where someone has an employer, they want us to file for an employment-based green card, they have a sponsor, so we go ahead and handle those cases. There’s a lot of red tape to actually get the visa, so we help them and we guide them through the process and we get everything prepared.”

Mr. Syed says that while the laws governing immigration and immigration status have not really changed in the last two years, the applications are being scrutinized much more carefully. This applies to the situation of immigrants marrying U.S. citizens, for instance.

“The laws are very favorable to people who are marrying U.S. citizens. You can be out of status many years and you can still get a green card. But the important thing to remember is, it has to be a good faith marriage. They’re going to be going for their marriage interview, and if people are just married on paper, but they have no evidence that they have a joint life together – they don’t have bank account statements with both their names, they don’t have a lease with both their names… that, plus in the interview they sometimes ask very personal questions, they may ask, ‘what’s your husband’s favorite TV show?,’ you know, so the people who just go to the court and they get a marriage certificate but they are not actually married most likely they're going to be found out. They could be accused of committing marriage fraud, which has very serious repercussions.”

Karim Hanafy says that while hate crimes against Muslims or Arabs are not the partners’ area of expertise, they do get phone calls or e-mails from people who feel they have been insulted on the street or at work, and want something to be done about it.

“There really is nothing you can do. The only recourse is, you know – you answer back. There is freedom of speech, they can say anything they want. The one thing we learn in constitutional law is your only choice of recourse is your own well-chosen words, basically. But of course, in regards to employment discrimination, sure, certainly there is some type of recourse that they have against the employer, if it is, in fact, discrimination.”

In general, however, both Karim Hanafy and Tariq Syed say that the reception immigrants from Arab or Muslim countries get in the United States now is no different from what it was before September 11 two years ago.

“They’re welcome, still. But there is certainly increased security for all these individuals. Now they are required to have interviews at the consulates overseas, which is causing tremendous delays, here they’re requiring everybody to go through a background check before their visas can be processed. It’s just that the bureaucracy now is taking so much longer than it did before, and a lot more men are being denied entrance that are from these countries – because they’re supposed to come here for non-immigrant purposes, for visiting, for instance, just for six months, but there is concern they will not go back if they come into the U.S. For others, that have a valid reason for coming, such as marriage or work or whatever the case may be, it’s still the same, the standards haven’t change, but it’s just taking much longer for these things to get approved now.”

Tariq Syed’s parents immigrated to the United States from India, Karim Hanafy’s from Egypt. Both men are practicing Muslims, and both say they entered the field of immigration law because they wanted to do something for their community. Their stories -- next week on New American Voices.

English Feature #7-37808 Broadcast September 1, 2003