U.S. immigration regulations have been a hot-button topic in 2019.

According to David Leopold, partner and chair of the immigration law group at Ulmer & Berne LLP, and Margaret W. Wong, founder and managing partner at Margaret W. Wong & Associates, LLC, both in Cleveland, though immigration law hasn’t changed much, society’s view of it has.

“Most of the changes proposed by our current administration have been proposed since April 1997,” Wong said. “They very much more refined it and developed it. USCIS acting head Ken Cuccinelli announced a rule change to be effective on Oct. 15, stating that future green card applicants, which does not apply to current green card holders, need to prove that they’re not unlikely to become a public charge.”

She said this movement began with former President Ronald Reagan, but the basics have remained the same.

“You can still get a green card through only four ways: an investment visa, family-based, employment-based, and religious or widow based,” Wong added. “The change of media between print and digital and the far-left and far-right conspiracy theories also contribute to all these rumors and gossip about changes.”

Leopold added it’s not so much the law that has changed, but the way that it is administered and practiced.

“The practice is much more difficult because we’re constantly fighting the government’s overreaching, whether its with deportation, at the border or within business immigration,” he said.

Leopold said it is important for every type of law, including immigration law, to be fluid enough to develop with current events.

“Law, in general, should serve the interests of the country and its citizens, and immigration law does neither,” he explained. “It needs to be overhauled and updated. When a president can come into the office and institute a policy of mayhem and cruelty primarily targeting people of color and closing off American businesses’ ability to compete in the global economy, something is seriously wrong with the law.”

Wong added American laws are divided into three parts and enforced by those parts, making it easier for laws to develop as needed.

“No. 1, the White House and executive offices can enact rule changes with public comments of 60 or 90 days and all executive orders,” she noted. “The federal circuit courts could adjudicate on the judicial side on changes and all ways to enforce laws.”

She added, “The legislature enacts laws. Now, between the Democratic Congress and a Republican Senate, the laws just couldn’t be changed. That opened up the opportunity for our executive branch and judicial branch to be more active in what they could do, and want to do.”

While the law and how it is practiced develops, it’s important for lawyers to keep their finger on the pulse.

“The practice of immigration law is a lot of fun, and it’s filled with a lot of moving parts and challenges,” Wong noted. “You’re doomed if you do and doomed if you don’t. Discretion is a big part of this practice.”

Leopold added, “A lawyer, by nature, is an advocate. Our profession makes us advocates. I think we have a moral and civic duty to make sure the law is improved and improving, to make sure the enforcement of the law is honest, fair and balanced, and respects the rights of individuals and companies. So, a lawyer’s job is to be an advocate on all levels, not just on the case that is right in front of them.”

Into the future, Leopold and Wong said they’re unsure the law will change immediately, but that there needs to be changes for businesses specifically.

“We talk about the top 1% in this country that is getting richer and richer while other people stagnate and what is going on in this country is we have a permanent underclass of individuals who are being exploited and abused,” Leopold said. “Yes, the law should be enforced, but it should be enforced in a way that makes sure labor standards are met. We need to ensure businesses can bring in the talent they need, and to make sure we have international commerce in a way that allows our businesses to compete in the global economy.”

Wong added, “The American media and public need to divide the conversation from new arrivals who are trying to cross the borders from Central American countries versus the older and more and the very established illegal immigrants or undocumented immigrants who came from years back when America needed and wanted their labor.”

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