Economy of scale: Professor takes global view of immigration law


 By Sheila Pursglove 

Legal News
Attorney Christian Allen stumbled onto the field of immigration law, when, simultaneously with his law degree, he earned a secondary diploma from Tulane in European Legal Practice.
“U.S. Immigration Law was an elective course in that diploma program, and two weeks into the class I was hooked,” says Allen, now a senior attorney in the Troy office of Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen, & Loewy, a global immigration law firm.
For the past 14 years, Allen has taught immigration law as an adjunct professor in the Paralegal Program at Oakland University. The majority of his students are adults working towards a first credential, or looking to change careers.
“They always bring very mature and interesting perspectives to the study of immigration law, and it’s great to hear what experiences they’ve had with the system, either personally or through their current jobs,” he says. “It’s an opportunity for me to dispel many of the rampant misconceptions and rumors which abound in immigration. And inevitably each year, somebody asks a unique question or offers up a twist on an otherwise familiar topic, which forces both me and their classmates into a discussion about immigration policy or the practical application of the law to an actual fact pattern. After more than a dozen years, I honestly teach more as a hobby and for fun, than anything else.”
At the end of each semester, Allen usually gets a very similar reaction from students.
“Because the law and implementing regulations are so complex and so counter-intuitive, most students tell me it’s one of the hardest classes they’ve taken,” he says. “However, I’m also almost universally told that it was one of the most interesting. So, I’m very frank with students on day one about the amount of studying and rote memorization they’re going to have to do. A couple of them tend to drop out in the first week or two, but the ones who stay seem to feel it was time well spent. Over the years, I’ve even had a couple of them come to work for me.”
In his own student days, Allen was originally a science major at University of Detroit Mercy, but has always had a love of mathematics and still dabbles in math as a “hobby” occasionally. As an added feather in his cap, he is a descendant of German immigrants who came to this country in the late 1800s and speaks fluent German.
“My grandmother was an avid, amateur genealogist and managed to contact many of our relatives in Germany during my childhood,” he explains. “She took each of her grandchildren on trips to Germany, and that led me to start taking German language courses in high school. I continued all through college, eventually passing the exam to be a certified translator, and even took refresher courses in law school.” 
At UDM, Allen took an entry-level economics course as an elective—“And it really clicked,” he says. “Economics involves a lot of math, but also a lot of international business and politics issues, at the macroeconomic scale. Being a certified German translator at the time, the economics curriculum had both the international and math appeal for me. Not a very marketable degree major, but irresistibly appealing to me at the time.”
After earning his bachelor’s degree in economics, magna cum laude, Allen intended to pursue a graduate degree in economics and perhaps teach, or possibly shift focus back to physics. However, he had also always been drawn to law.
“I was varsity captain of my high school debate team, and growing up my parents encouraged very lively discussions around the dinner table each night,” he says. “With three siblings, logically winning an argument at dinner was a big deal in my house. To this day, my wife jokes to friends that there’s no point in arguing with me—I’ll win, whether I’m right or wrong in the end.”
A native of Troy, Allen went down to New Orleans to earn his J.D., cum laude, from Tulane University Law School in international law, but came full circle back to his hometown and has worked there his entire career.
The field of immigration law has an international appeal and requires a very high level of attention to minor details, similar to his other interest of economics and math.
“And, the practice can be very rewarding personally, when you see the individuals and families you helped navigate through the absurdly arcane U.S. immigration maze, as well as the employers who are able to fill that critical role to advance an important project,” he says.
Allen—who, prior to joining Fragomen served as managing attorney at Ellis Porter, PLC in Troy—has worked on personal and employer-sponsored cases for many incredibly interesting individuals over the years. In the late-1990s, he handled the green card sponsorship for a Russian mathematician, someone termed an “Alien of Extraordinary Ability.”
“This fellow obviously had a very prestigious resume, but it was only while chatting with him during a final interview that I realized he had co-authored one of my calculus textbooks in college,” Allen says.
One of Allen’s oldest corporate clients is also always involved in very interesting projects. Originally formed in the mid-1980s by an immigrant entrepreneur, the company focused primarily on electronic control systems for the auto industry. Several years ago, however, they designed and developed a device that could be attached to any private or commercial vehicle and transmit detailed location data and driving history information over both cellular and WiFi networks.
“That device was somewhat unexpectedly adopted by the automobile insurance industry and I now see them promoted in TV ads all over the country—it’s been a huge commercial success story for a Southeast Michigan mid-sized employer,” Allen notes.
Many of the high-level researchers and electronics engineering teams working on this project are immigrants.
One client, a European steel manufacturer, has been on an explosive growth path for several years now.
“We’ve had to scramble to keep up with the pace at which they’ve been opening new companies in the U.S., investing tens of millions of dollars to refurbish shuttered manufacturing facilities across the country, and even to build new plants from scratch,” Allen says. “Their operations now span across industries, including the development of wind and solar farms, and the manufacturing of wind turbines.”
Recognized in Best Lawyers in America and Super Lawyers, as well as Best Lawyers in DBusiness magazine and Best Lawyers in Crain’s Detroit Business magazine, Allen is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), and has served as the Department of Labor liaison for the Michigan AILA Chapter, as well as chapter treasurer. He also has served as a member of the State Bar of Michigan International Law Committee and the Oakland County Bar Association Immigration Law Committee.
He and his wife, and their two children, ages 2 and 4, live in Beverly Hills. With two young children, Allen doesn’t find a lot of time for volunteer work or hobbies.
“I’ve played soccer nearly my entire life—and varsity in high school and college—and still do each summer in the Troy Parks and Rec adult leagues.” 
“I’m a—sometimes guilty—first-adopter for technology and dabble in electronics; and a big fan of the Maker movement and Table Top gaming.”