Trials and Immigrations

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But the bottom line is that it is still more difficult for people to enter the United States and get green cards than it was earlier this decade. Most immigrants receive green cards by being married or related to American citizens or lawful permanent residents, says John Good, a supervisory deportation officer with the INS; they can also obtain green cards through their employer or by receiving political asylum.

It is also more difficult for illegal immigrants to stay. The INS's most recent figures, from 1997, report about 45,000 illegal immigrants in Colorado, the majority having come from Mexico. (Greene says part of that increase has to do with California's passage of Proposition 187, the 1994 measure that barred undocumented immigrants from receiving public education and health services.) In fiscal year 1999, between 4,000 and 5,000 immigrants were involved in deportation proceedings through Greene's office. Of those, 3,000 were deported; the majority, about 1,800, were convicted criminals. While IIRIRA gave INS officials like Greene more tools to deal with criminal aliens, it also robbed them of discretionary powers to, for example, grant "indefinite voluntary departure," in which an immigrant agrees to leave the United States but has no timetable placed on that departure. So an elderly woman with terminal cancer could remain in the U.S. to die among family, or INS officials could keep informants in the country for as long as they wished. "[IIRIRA] was a mixed bag, from my point of view," says Greene.

Immigration attorneys take a more critical view. Jeanne Butterfield, the executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, an organization of 6,000 attorneys nationally, describes IIRIRA as the "most restrictive and far-reaching legislation in decades. I'd say since the 1920s."

"It's 100 percent political strategy," adds local attorney and AILA member Ann Allott. "President Clinton is not processing legal immigration papers. They don't want to give anybody green cards. They don't want the political rhetoric. But they have to keep the back door open. There are no warm bodies left in this town to go to work. We're using illegal labor to keep the price of labor down."

"This IIRIRA stuff is ridiculous," says Marinoff, who was starting his immigration practice just after IIRIRA passed. "If this stuff were applied to American citizens, there'd be a civil war." The law, he says, is "draconian, unconstitutional and mean-spirited."

And in Marinoff's case, it's good for business.

In Denver, thousands of illegal immigrants work through deportation proceedings each year, and many of them work with one of Colorado's 79 AILA attorneys, who say that their specialty is not particularly lucrative. These lawyers fall into two camps. The first camp is cautious and conservative. When clients come knocking on their doors, attorneys politely turn them down and send them on their way.

Then there's the Brandon Marinoff camp. That camp, made up largely of Brandon Marinoff, is the one that fights. Marinoff says he doesn't back down from litigating cases against an unforgiving law. He'll tell you he stares IIRIRA in the face and finds a way to keep his clients living in America -- and that is what separates him from almost every other immigration attorney in Denver: The others would rather turn away potential clients than risk turning them in to the INS on the chance they could survive deportation proceedings. Jim Salvator, a supporter of Marinoff's who has his own reputation as a tough and aggressive lawyer, says this is the favored response of the American Immigration Lawyers Association: "You roll over and put your tail between your legs." The mantra of immigration attorneys, Marinoff says, is to not upset the status quo and the INS.

"I'm very aggressive," Marinoff says of rumors circulating through Denver's small community of immigration attorneys that the INS is investigating his practice. "I've gotten a lot of people out of their custody. As a result, we're constantly under their scrutiny."

Marinoff's critics say he overcharges his clients and often comes to court unprepared.

"Everyone knows he's a bad apple," says immigration attorney Laura Lichter. "I had someone who had previously discussed cancellation with Mr. Marinoff's office, and he was excited about applying for it. But there was nothing unique and compelling about his case. In my judgment, no matter how hard I fought for him, he didn't have a high enough chance of success. I spent a half an hour talking him out of it."

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T.R. Witcher