Of National Importance Immigration lawyer pleads for comprehensive reform

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By Debra Talcott
Legal News

When the state of Arizona passed what is considered one of the most stringent immigration laws ever enacted, the average U.S. citizen gained awareness about the practice of immigration law and the areas it encompasses.

“The general areas of immigration law tend to be family, employment, compliance, citizenship, asylum, and removal,” says attorney Scott Cooper, managing partner at Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen and Loewy in Troy.

Cooper, who specializes in employment visas and advising employers on immigration compliance, says immigration law has been a specialized practice for many decades and that it began in areas of the country where immigrants tended to arrive, such as New York City and San Francisco.

With 35 offices around the world and a variety of strategic partners and other co-counsel, the Fragomen firm assists with immigration and nationality matters in more than 100 countries.
Cooper takes pride in the firm’s reputation, which has been pivotal to its growth over the past six decades.  Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen, and Loewy counsels businesses, universities, and research institutions on immigration policies and issues that threaten Michigan’s ability to compete globally.

“Our client contacts in human resources and the legal community can attest to our service level,” says Cooper, who also makes contacts through his HR work and through membership in educational organizations in his role as adjunct professor at the University of Detroit Mercy School  of Law.

Cooper teaches in the nationally-recognized UDM Law Firm program, which assigns law students the role of associates working on a variety of legal issues raised by a specific corporate transaction. The course teaches students about the immigration aspects of corporate mergers and acquisitions.

“It is a privilege to teach in that program with a group of excellent professors from many prestigious firms. Teaching at the law school is a great experience in that the students challenge you on content and approach, and I can help inspire others to consider immigration law as their field of choice,” says Cooper.

A native of Chicago, Cooper earned his J.D. at Illinois Institute of Technology Chicago-Kent College of Law while working in his former profession, higher education administration.
“As an associate dean at the University of Illinois Medical Center, I managed international student and scholar programs and conducted immigration-related study on a Fulbright grant in Germany. I completed law school while working and began a private practice specializing in immigration law. I joined Fragomen in 1986.”

Cooper says his best memories of college days include his opportunity to study political systems around the world, his involvement in student government, and the camaraderie of dorm life. His worst memories surround the turbulence of the 1970s, including the war in Vietnam and the Kent State shootings at the hands of the Ohio National Guard. Interested in government and the law since his undergraduate days as a political science major, Cooper offers a unique assessment of the controversial Arizona law.

“Arizona is a front-line state impacted by a significant undocumented population as well as by the drug cartel activity on both sides of the border. The fact is, however, that during the last 10 years, where the border crossing has been the largest, crime has dropped in Arizona. You also didn’t hear as many people complaining when the economy was going great guns and the need for labor was great in housing and low-skilled industries.”

Cooper fears that violations of the rights of citizens and others in the country legally are inevitable.

“People lose sight of the fact that immigration violations such as overstaying are largely civil, yet are characterized as criminal. Those in the U.S. who consume drugs and sell weapons to the cartels share greatly in the border violence. The flow of the undocumented has been ongoing long before the Mexican drug cartel violence developed, yet many connect the two.”
When asked what advice he would give lawmakers who must deal with immigration issues, Cooper speaks candidly.

“On the federal level, Congress has to have the guts to secure the border, reform our immigration system, and find a humane solution for those here unlawfully.”

Cooper suggests that neither a border-only nor an enforcement-only approach can be successful. Likewise, an amnesty policy such as that from the 1980s will not address today’s problems.
“Comprehensive reform is the only real answer. You can’t expect an immigration system largely from the 1950s and quotas from 1990 to meet the needs of our nation any more than a 1957 Chevy meets the needs of a modern society.  Don’t get me wrong — a ’57 Chevy was and is a classic, but it requires regular maintenance, gets low mileage, and does not meet today’s needs.”

Cooper also reminds us that our Constitution gives authority over immigration issues to the federal government.

“A state-by-state immigration system not only preempts an area of law which our Constitution delegates to the federal government, but when states seek to fill the void with laws like that in Arizona,  there is  patchwork of laws which citizens and employers will find confusing and conflicting.”

When asked what advice he would give employers, Cooper is quick to respond.

“I have one word of advice for employers—comply.  While most employers seek to do so, there are bad players and those who ‘game’ the immigration system,” says Cooper.  “What I see is a rapidly-growing enforcement effort involving inspections of employment eligibility verification, visa petitions, and labor conditions.  The Obama administration has been tougher on enforcement than any prior administration.  The money and people are in place and growing, and the impacts on employers are showing.”

Cooper’s dedication to immigration law is evident in his membership in the Birmingham Bloomfield Newcomers Club and the Lone Pine International Club, organizations that welcome and assist temporary residents who bring their families to Oakland County to fulfill short-term work assignments.

“There is a great diversity of nationalities, but we also have a healthy contingent of U.S. citizens involved.  The BBNC, in particular, is a long-standing community organization working with U.S. residents and foreign nationals alike.”

Those who know Cooper well know that he enjoys the outdoors, particularly when he is on a golf course or in a canoe.  As a boy, he enjoyed visiting relatives in the Paw Paw area, camping at the dunes, and exploring Michigan’s West Coast. His hobby-of-choice, however, is playing bass guitar in the rhythm and blues band Blushing Road.

“We are a group of people who all have day jobs but are also seasoned musicians.  We enjoy playing for charitable groups and causes,” says Cooper.

While Cooper makes time for leisure in his busy life, his passion is clearly rooted in his commitment to immigration compliance. Cooper takes issue with our media-dominated political process and says it sometimes portrays a false image of immigrants. He reminds us that this country’s greatness comes from our diverse contributions.

“The demonization of not just those here unlawfully but of all immigrants has continued unabated by conservative media and nativists.  While we seek to be the largest gated community in the world, we turn our backs on one of the great aspects of America—our immigrant heritage.   Immigrant group after immigrant group has brought with them new energy, entrepreneurialism, and diversity.  Just as true is that every immigrant group—the Irish, the Italians, the Eastern Europeans, and Asians—were portrayed by many of those already here as the coming fall of our country and culture. If we had followed that course, we would have had pilgrims and nothing more.  While I am sure Native Americans would not have suffered as much as a result, our country would not have been the powerhouse that it has been for its existence. ”

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