BE INKANDESDCENT MAGAZINE: What is the impact of an "Invisible Fence" around America's borders? Immigration attorney Linda Rahal explains.

A Q&A with Immigration Attorney Linda Rahal and Be Inkandescent Magazine’s Editor Hope Katz Gibbs
Be Inkandescent Magazine • May 2010

Linda Rahal is the Chief Operating Officer of the prominent immigration law firm Trow & Rahal in Washington, DC. Since opening its doors in 1993, her firm has been hired to help obtain visas for hundreds of employers who are bringing educated international professionals to work in America.

Linda believes the U.S. government is building an “invisible fence” around our borders. And in her opinion, this is not healthy for the fiscal future of the country.

“If you build a tangible fence with gates, people know there is a barrier to entry and they can plan accordingly if they want to come through,” Linda says. “But if you build an invisible fence, people can’t see it until they crash into it. There’s no way for them to plan or prepare, and so they plan to go elsewhere. That’s the unfortunate situation we are finding ourselves in today.”

The result, she worries, is that a lot of creative and innovative people are being driven away, or are giving up on trying to come to the US, because of a lack of transparency regarding the rules.

“It’s incredibly frustrating for companies to hire foreign nationals or to bring foreign nationals from offices abroad when the rules for who can work in the country change regularly, and with no prior notice,” she adds. “Plus, there is inconsistent decision making, which makes the system less predictable. What worked yesterday may not work today or tomorrow.”

Linda adds, “the invisible fence is keeping the wrong people out.”

Following is a Q&A with Linda Rahal, who describes where the country has been — and where she fears it is going — in terms of immigration law.

Be Inkandescent Magazine: This is an emotional topic with many people on both sides of the angry debate. Can you provide some perspective on the type of issues you are dealing with? How does that differ from the conflict around immigration that we usually see in the news?

Linda Rahal: When people think of immigration, they typically think of the issues relating to illegal immigration in this country. In our practice, we focus on business related immigration cases and represent a large number of employers who want to hire the best and the brightest, and often these include foreign national students graduating at the top of their class; they also want to bring valuable employees from offices abroad when dealing with multinational companies.

We also work with a lot of investors and entrepreneurs who want to bring businesses or ideas to the US. I don’t think that most of the public understands the issues around this type of legal immigration unless they have been touched by it in their own lives or know someone who has been through or is going through the process.

Be Inkandescent Magazine: Given your decades of experience working as an immigration attorney, can you share a specific example of a case you have worked on recently where the invisible fence has blocked your client’s entry to the US?

Linda Rahal: Right now, I am dealing with a company where the immigration service has made inconsistent decisions for 3 similar cases, and is basically creating a new interpretation of a regulation to deny one of them. These inconsistent decisions are causing a very large multinational corporation with over $3 billion in gross revenues and 51,000 employees worldwide to re-think its decision to bring a function of the company to the US. The company is trying to bring jobs to the US that would cause the company in the US to hire more US workers. Shouldn’t this be the type of activity and business that the US wants to encourage?

Be Inkandescent Magazine: If you were in charge, what would you do to make things work differently?

Linda Rahal: Given our current economy, the government should be interested in allowing businesses and highly qualified individuals to come to the US. Many studies have been done to show that highly educated foreign nationals do not take jobs away from US workers but actually help the economy.

Many of them generate jobs for US workers by opening new companies, investing in US businesses, and bringing employees to the US. In turn, bringing people here helps to fuel the economy as they buy houses, send their children to school, and become consumers in the US.

The immigration service shouldn’t be restricting the visa categories that allow educated and entrepreneurial people to come to the US as they have been. Instead, they should be developing programs to encourage these people to come to the United States.

Due to the difficulty in this country now for foreign students to change visa status to stay and work in the US, and the 5-10 years or more that it can take to get a green card, many of them are leaving the US to find jobs in Canada and Europe. Other countries are taking out full page ads in US newspapers and creating programs to attract these people to come to their countries.

The US should understand the long-term value of keeping these types of people in the US. Historically, it is the children of immigrants who end up at the top of our high school and college graduating classes.

Be Inkandescent Magazine: Historically speaking, how has immigration law changed in the last 10 years? 20 years? 50 years?

Linda Rahal: Well, I have been doing this now for 17 years as an attorney and I had 3 years of experience in this as a paralegal before I went to law school.

The process has definitely gotten more complicated, time consuming and difficult. It is no longer a process that a foreign national wants to enter into lightly. Obviously, since 9/11 there have been a lot more restrictions on people coming to the US.

Some of this was absolutely necessary, but I think that we have gone overboard in the other direction. The unintended consequences of the new restrictions on some of the visa categories will be devastating for this country as we have a brain drain and money drain due to people leaving the US.

Be Inkandescent Magazine: We’ve been reading the headlines about what appears to be the nation’s strictest anti-immigration law being passed in April in Arizona. What are your thoughts and concerns about the impact of this legislation?

Linda Rahal: The law has re-ignited the debate over immigration reform, which can be a good thing. The Federal Government needs to do something. Otherwise, the law does bring up some concerns relating to anti-discrimination laws, as well as the need to educate the police and other state agents as to what are acceptable documents to prove that one is legal in the US. There are a lot of documents someone could present other than a green card, and most people don’t have any idea what these other documents could look like.

Be Inkandescent Magazine: What is your forecast for the future of immigration law in the next three to five years?

Linda Rahal: The country needs some sort of immigration reform as we are working with a system that is broken. On the legal immigration side, we are causing multinational companies to decide not to open offices in the US due to the difficulty of getting work visas for employees, and we are causing highly skilled workers and investors to decide to invest outside of the US.

My understanding is that Microsoft moved an office from the Northwest up to Canada due, at least in part, to its inability to get work visas for its highly talented employees. This is the unintended consequence of our current immigration policies. It will result in a loss of talent and investment that would have come to the United States, and if nothing changes, it will ultimately contribute to the decline of our society and our economy.

Be Inkandescent Magazine: Thank you so much for your time, Linda. Your insights are fascinating, and we look forward to future articles on the invisible fence in Be Inkandescent Magazine.

Do you have questions for Linda? Send us an email at hope@inkandescentpr.com.

About Linda Rahal

Linda Rahal is the Chief Operating Officer of Trow & Rahal, and has been with the firm since its inception in 1993.

Trow & Rahal represents companies and individuals in navigating the immigration process for visas, green cards, citizenship, and other immigration related matters. The firm also assists companies in preparing corporate immigration policies, conducting I-9 and compliance audits, and developing immigration related strategies for owners and employees.

Linda received her JD degree, magna cum laude, from the American University, Washington College of Law in 1992; and earned her BA degree, cum laude, in International Relations from Tufts University in 1986. Linda has been a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) for over 10 years. She is also a member of District of Columbia and Maryland Bar Associations, as well as the American Bar Association.

Linda’s reputation within the legal community has led to selection by her peers for inclusion in several prestigious publications, including The Best Lawyer’s in America, the International Who’s Who of Business Immigration Lawyers, and the Martindale-Hubbell Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers.

For more information, visit www.trowlaw.com.