Direct import: Immigration law expert helps keep dreams alive


- Legal News photo by Robert Chase

By Tom Kirvan

Legal News

It was not by mere happenstance that Eli Maroko gravitated to the field of immigration law. By family history alone, it appears to have been his destiny.

His father, Simon, who spoke seven languages, was of Dutch descent, immigrating to the U.S. following a series of harrowing experiences during World War II. His mother, Ruth, came to the States from Israel, bringing her talents as a teacher of Hebrew.

“My father led a far more interesting life than mine,” Maroko said, downplaying his own personal and professional significance. “He twice escaped German captivity during World War II and later fought in Israel’s War of Independence (1948) before coming to Wayne State to finish his education. He led a life worth noting.”

Maroko, despite his protestations, is doing much the same, carving an impressive reputation as an immigration law expert with the Southfield based firm of Jaffe Raitt Heuer and Weiss. There, he is coordinator of the firm’s Immigration Practice Group, while also serving as chairman of Michigan Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

His legal work brings Maroko “great satisfaction,” especially when he assists clients with complex immigration law issues that threaten to derail their dreams of working and living in the U.S. He casts a wary eye on efforts across the nation to enact more stringent laws to curtail illegal immigration, questioning whether states should be the battleground for such debates.

“As a nation, our immigration policy hasn’t made sense for years, which is undoubtedly why certain states have stepped in to enact their own reforms,” Maroko said. “The issues, however, are federal in nature and that is where any comprehensive reforms need to be made.”

Yet, Maroko doubts that such a politically charged matter will be taken up by Congress on the eve of a presidential election year when campaign rhetoric clouds clear thinking in Washington.

“In the meantime, we are likely to see more states step in to fill the void, which is only going to make things more difficult and confusing for those trying to navigate the immigration law system,”

Maroko said. “We will continue to have to find creative solutions to some of the problems encountered until a comprehensive reform package is approved. We need to take steps to ensure that the best and the brightest have the opportunity to stay here.”

His legal ingenuity has been put to the test on many such occasions in efforts to give would-be U.S. citizens a fair shake with immigration authorities. He regularly works with high tech and auto industry companies who hire foreign nationals, going to great lengths to buy them time or long-term opportunities to complete their employment assignments.

“Many of them are advance degree holders who are working on specific projects for these companies,” Maroko said. “In many cases, they are running out of time before their work is finished and they need extensions. Some of these cases fall under the so-called ‘STEM’ program for recent university graduates that involves foreign nationals working in the science, technology, engineering, and math fields.”

Another favorite area of his practice involves foreign athletes who train in the U.S., including Olympic figure skaters and professional dancers.

“We have represented clients from the former Soviet Union who are training at the Arctic Edge arena (in Canton), as well as those who are training or teach ballroom dance at the Fred Astaire Dance Studios in the area,” Maroko said. “Some of them are Olympic competitors who are training under the guidance of some of the finest teachers in the world, and invariably they need immigration help as their stays here continue.”

Athletic talent runs in Maroko’s blood and has since his days as a football and tennis player at Pontiac Central High School, where he graduated in 1972. From there he enrolled at the University of Michigan, but the large talent pool at the time thwarted his dreams of playing as a Wolverine.

While at U of M, he fulfilled his interest in collegiate sports by helping with the radio broadcasts of the Wolverine football and basketball games.

Maroko enrolled in law school at Wayne State University, earning his juris doctor with honors in 1979. While working at a small firm in Troy, Maroko was first exposed to an immigration law case, helping the cousin to the Dutch ambassador to the U.S. A short time later, Maroko was asked to present an immigration law program at an Oakland County Bar Association event, helping him develop a reputation in the specialized legal field.

“My involvement in immigration cases was partially by design and partially by accident,” Maroko admitted. “Fortunately, like a number of things in my life, it has turned out well.”

His move to Jaffe nearly three years ago certainly was by design, particularly given the opportunity to develop an immigration law practice for the firm.

“It is a fascinating field that requires a great deal of creativity and perseverance to reach successful outcomes,” Maroko said. “It has become even more challenging in the years since 9/11, which obviously was a watershed event in terms of immigration law issues. Generally speaking, there has become a culture of ‘no’ on the government side since then, making it difficult to obtain approvals and extensions in many cases.”

He and his wife, Beth, met while Maroko was in law school and celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary this year. The couple has three children, Jordan, Alex, and Abby. A graduate of Michigan State University, Jordan has one of the top playing songs on digital radio and will soon appear on a reality TV show, “RockStar Academy.”