Q&A with: Immigration attorney Ron Abramson

Attorney Ron Abramson began working at the Manchester office of McLane, Graf, Raulerson & Middleton in May 2006, having already earned a reputation as one of the state’s foremost immigration lawyers. The son of refugees from the Soviet Union, Abramson was born in Chile and recently spent two years in that country as a Fulbright Scholar, teaching courses on Chilean legal reforms. He is an adjunct professor at Franklin Pierce Law Center in Concord.

Q. What is your perspective on the proposed immigration law reform that President Bush, Senator Kennedy and others were supporting?

A. I would say that now it’s not a proposed reform, it’s a dead and gone reform. It’s what might have been. From a legal perspective and, really, just about any perspective, the immigration system is broken and has been broken for a long period of time.

Q. What was basically wrong with the bill in the end?

A. There were a lot of things wrong with it. The gist of it is it didn’t properly take into account how to deal with the 12 million people who are here undocumented.

Q. Are you surprised that this issue resonates as much as it does with people from California, Arizona and Texas, all the way up to New Hampshire?

A. I think people care because there’s a lot of misinformation. There’s a lot of concern that American society is somehow being fundamentally altered by other people coming in, and that’s what fuels a lot of what I would deem as the opposition to immigration reform and to figuring out a way to allow people to come here and integrate into the economy, which obviously needs that. If there weren’t jobs, there wouldn’t be people coming to do those jobs. If employers — and I can speak for our own clients — if they could staff their positions with the local labor pool, they would gladly do it. Why would they want to incur the expense of legal fees and the immigration bureaucracy to fill a position they could otherwise fill?

Q. So that more than offsets the savings of hiring immigrants for less because they might be willing to work for less?

A. If you do a proper non-immigrant petition, which is, say, for a worker, you have to give a prevailing wage certification. You have to show that the fact that you’re employing this non-citizen worker will not depress wages in the local market.

Q. How should the nation deal with the estimated 12 million undocumented aliens here now?

A. It depends. I think that if we could wave a magic wand and literally remove those 12 million people, a number of economic sectors would collapse — hospitality, agriculture, restaurants. You would have trouble finding people to clean hotel rooms, you’d have trouble finding people who would work at ski resorts. You’d have trouble finding people who would pick fruit.

The high-tech sector has theoretically 65,000 visas available to specialty workers every year. That’s not enough. And the last few years, those numbers have been getting used up more quickly than ever before. In 2006, they were used by the third week of May. In 2007, by the second day that we could file, which was April 3, 150,000 applications had been filed for the 65,000 slots.

So we had employers who filed anywhere from one to 10 applications who did not get key personnel in and that affects their business plans and their ability to be competitive in an ever more competitive global market.

You might note that Microsoft recently declared, in the wake of the immigration reform bill dying, that they’re going to set up a huge new facility in Vancouver, Canada, because they just can’t get bring enough high skilled foreign workers to their facilities in Washington state.

Q. So we’re not being flooded by legal immigrants?

A. We are to the extent that we have a quota system based on certain family preference categories which are probably too mundane to get into here. But the fact is, every year more people apply than the slots that are allotted, so that’s where you get these bizarre scenarios where it takes anywhere from four to 22 years just to reunite families who are doing things legally.

Q. Roughly how many undocumented aliens do we have here in New Hampshire?

A. I think the 2000 census said that New Hampshire had somewhere in the area of 2,000 people here illegally. It’s a negligible number. But of course those numbers are always very difficult to trust because they’re counting people who are here trying not to be counted. But it’s definitely a small number given the reaction that we’ve had, given that we’ve had congressional hearings here in August of 2006. New Hampshire was chosen as one of the states for field hearings. That seemed a bit of political showboating and not much substance of engagement of the issue.

Q. But when you’ve got law enforcement officials in New Hampshire arresting illegal, or undocumented, aliens who came up from Mexico or Central America, that’s really like having your safeties making all the tackles. It shows something is amiss in the border security.

A. Nobody has credibly suggested we should not have adequate border enforcement. But if you’re talking about building a fence on the U.S.-Mexican border, it’s not feasible. There are a lot of jokes out there about well, if they build a 20-foot fence, there are going to be a lot of people getting 21-foot ladders out. And there was a funny commentary I heard on the radio where they said it’s going to cost $2 billion to build a fence, but if we use illegal labor maybe we can build it for $1 billion. And the commentator said, “We just need to be sure that the workers are on the other side when they’re done …”

I can tell you that whatever the government throws up, the people who want to get through will find a way. It doesn’t mean they’re right. It means the key is not a physical barrier. The key is setting up a system where there is no incentive and no reward for coming in illegally. How do you do that? By having adequate numbers of legal visas available. This goes back to a common objection. You talk to just about anybody in this country and unless they’re Native American, their family came from somewhere else. And they will commonly tell you “Well, my grandparents did it legally.”

Q. They passed through Ellis Island.

A. Exactly. And that is a complete nonstarter for the debate because “legally” didn’t mean much then. It wasn’t even with visas. People came, they were shuttled through and unless they had a medical problem, they generally were allowed in. And you know every culture experiences their challenge of settling in. I don’t need to remind you about the fact that “Irish need not apply” was the common refrain. And it’s shocking to me that as a nation of immigrants we could turn our backs on the latest stream, vilify them, scapegoat them for society’s problems when, in fact, the statistics just don’t bear that out.

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