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Siskind's Top 20
by Greg Siskind

Every year as December comes to a close, news organizations come up with their lists of the top events of the previous 12 months. We’ll bet you’ve never seen a list of top immigration stories for a year. So we’ve decided to get into the act. Below is a list of what I believe are the 20 most important immigration stories in the year 2000. If you think I missed one, let me know by e-mailing me at

  1. Elian Gonzalez Returned to Father in Cuba – The Elian Gonzalez saga may prove to be the biggest immigration story of the last generation. The case divided the public and caused politicians to take positions at odds with their typical views. Republicans called for a liberal reading of asylum rules. Democrats did not think Elian had any right to apply for asylum independent of his father.
  2. Congress passed the LIFE Act. Among other things, it temporarily restores INA Section 245i, grants green cards to hundreds of thousands of amnesty litigants and creates a new temporary visa for spouses and children or green card holders who are awaiting priority dates outside the US.
  3. ATC21 Act – The bill is generally known for substantially raising the H-1B quota. But it also contained other important changes like making H-1B visas portable and granting immigrants’ rights when the INS takes too long in handling cases.
  4. Department of Labor issues new H-1B regulations – Just before Christmas, the Department of Labor issued its most important set of regulations governing the H-1B program since the Immigration Act of 1990. The regulations will dramatically change many aspects of the H-1B process.
  5. Congress passes battered spouse visa law – Congress revisits the Violence Against Women Act and further eases rules for abused spouses seeking immigration benefits
  6. LCA Faxback woes – The Department of Labor’s promise of one-minute turnaround times on H-1B Labor Condition Applications goes up in smoke. If your application is not lost in space, processing times are still slower than when these cases were handled manually.
  7. >State Department J waiver processing woes continue – Throughout 2000, the State Department was still failing miserably in its takeover of the J visa. Processing times have improved, but immigration practitioners are left longing for the days when the US Information Agency managed the program.
  8. Immigrants play influential role in Campaign 2000 – The political pundits missed one of the most important stories in the 2000 elections. Millions of new voters who were naturalized in the 1990s took to the polls in huge numbers. The polls failed to pick up on what may have been the chief reason Al Gore won the popular vote by more than 500,000 votes. Ironically, immigrant votes may ultimately have delivered Florida to Bush and cost Gore the election.
  9. INS issues physician national interest waiver rules – In 1999, Congress passed a law rewarding green cards to physicians willing to serve in underserved communities. The INS seemed interested in ignoring the law and not adjudicating these cases. A lawsuit prompted the INS to issue regulations, but the regulations invented a number of requirements Congress probably did not intend. Expect the courts to decide this one.
  10. H-1B Cap Causes Headaches - With more than six months left in the fiscal year and unemployment at record lows, H-1B processing comes to a screeching halt. And the INS and Senator Spencer Abraham sparred over the INS’ method for counting H-1B visas. While the INS is defending itself, it presses to subtract 19,000 visas from the 2000 count due to its own counting errors.
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  12. INS arrests 40 H-1B computer workers in San Antonio – The INS terrorized dozens of Indian computer programmers with a raid on a computer center at an Air Force Base. The “crime”? – An employer’s technical violation of failing to properly document the workers’ transfer from one worksite to another. The fact that the raid occurred in the district of anti-immigration zealot Lamar Smith, the Chairman of the House Immigration Subcommittee, also raises eyebrows.
  13. Visa Waiver Pilot Program made permanent – The vast majority of the nearly 20,000,000 tourists visiting the United States every year uses the Visa Waiver program. Congress has now realized that this program is a huge success for the American tourist industry.
  14. Senior INS official arrested for spying – A senior INS official at the busy Miami District office is accused of being a Cuban spy. The spy charges are later reduced to much lesser charges of passing information without authorization.
  15. INS costs Portland air routes to Asia – Overzealous INS inspectors at the Portland Airport make Asian visitors bypass Portland. Delta Airlines decides it cannot afford to keep half empty planes flying across the Pacific and drops the lucrative Tokyo routes. The Portland INS director resigns shortly thereafter.
  16. Section 110 of IIRAIRA revoked – As part of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, Congress called for the creation of a draconian entry-exit control system at the nation’s borders. After it became clear that a system like this would cause horrendous gridlock at the nation’s entry and exit points, Congress comes to its senses and scrapped the idea.
  17. Wen Ho Lee Released After Reaching Plea Agreement – After Wen Ho Lee, a naturalized US citizen of Chinese origin, is accused of passing nuclear secrets on to the Chinese government, Asians feel a chilling effect at America’s national research centers. The government eventually drops most of the serious charges due to an absence of evidence.
  18. INS Commissioner Meissner Resigns – Doris Meissner resigned in late 2000 after holding the INS Commissioner position for longer than anyone in the history of the agency. While Meissner leaves claiming a job well done, many directly blame her for leaving the INS in such a mess that Congress may formally disband the agency in the near future.
  19. INS Issues Guidelines on When Not to Put Someone in Deportation Proceedings – The 1996 immigration laws dramatically expanded the definition of “aggravated felony” and suddenly immigrants are placed in deportation proceedings for crimes as minor as shoplifting and hair-pulling. Even the most anti-immigrant defenders of IIRAIRA admit that they did not intend that the law apply to these cases, but that the INS has the power to exercise discretion in which cases it selects to prosecute. Unfortunately, the INS regularly failed to use its discretion. To remedy the problem, the agency has now issued guidelines explaining when not to place someone in proceedings.
  20. INS issues long-awaited asylum regulations. – The INS implemented a major set of regulations governing the Asylum application process.
  21. INS issues final rule on reviewing long term detention cases – If you are convicted of any type of crime that makes you deportable, even a relatively minor crime, and you are from a country with bad relations with the US, you could face a life in prison. Why? The INS has been holding many people in jail for years because the US does not have treaties to remove people to a number of countries like Cuba, Iran and Libya. The INS has finally issued rules that will define when it will allow people to be released. See the report later in this issue for the story on this.

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