Gumption, resilience, courage: Immigration attorney finds inspiration in his clients


Angelo Paparelli is one of the most highly acclaimed and influential immigration attorneys in the country.

A 1976 alumnus of Wayne State University Law School, Paparelli is a partner with Seyfarth Shaw LLP and has a bicoastal practice in southern California and New York City. He is founder and past president of the Alliance of Business Immigration Lawyers, a worldwide coalition of leading immigration firms.

Paparelli is widely published and quoted by media, and his public policy blog, Nation of Immigrators, reflects his mission to help Americans accept and welcome immigrants for the good of the nation.

"The blog is my effort at thought leadership written to influence federal immigration agencies and Congress to adopt enlightened immigration interpretations, policies and procedures that embody our country's exceptionalism as a nation of immigrants," Paparelli said. "Over several administrations, many in government have told me that my blog has done just that. It has caused federal officials to reconsider and be more sensitive to the concerns I've expressed in my blog.

"The current administration is far less influenced by these public expressions of concern, but in the yo-yo world of immigration, this, too, shall pass. Meantime, I will continue through my blog to try to influence, enlighten, cajole, shame and - where appropriate - applaud federal immigration behaviors."

A lifelong Detroiter, Paparelli, grandson of Italian immigrants, studied international law at Wayne Law hoping it would be a way for him to travel the world. After clerking for the late Michigan Supreme Court Judge Dorothy Comstock Riley, he joined Ziegler, Dykhouse, and Wise, and practiced international business law.

While attending Wayne Law, he married a woman born in Iran who introduced him to other Iranians, some of whom asked him to help them submit asylum applications. He found this fulfilling work. Then, at the urging of John Wise, he attended an immigration law conference.

"There, I encountered happy lawyers who were most willing to share their best practices because we all faced the same opponent- the federal immigration bureaucracy," Paparelli said. "Moreover, because I had studied and enjoyed tax law - a species of administrative law covering virtually all of the human condition - I was attracted to immigration law because it featured the same characteristics. So, I was hooked and I've never looked back."

Paparelli is inspired by the immigrants he meets in his practice.

"It takes gumption, resilience and courage to leave behind family, friends and the familiar settings of one's country of origin, most often to improve the lot of their children, and take a chance on America," he said.

He described one of his cases that has gone on for many years.

"I represent a husband, wife and young son, who is diagnosed with mental disabilities, all hailing from a destitute and strife-torn African nation," Paparelli said.

"The husband's green card was approved by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services because he worked for an international nonprofit. But the green-card applications of the wife and son were denied due to a miscommunication between the man's employer's in-house counsel and former external immigration counsel.

"I filed multiple motions to reopen and reconsider the USCIS denial. I also filed new freestanding green card applications for mother and son. All of these requests have been denied without the agency ever having addressed my fundamental claim that the facts fall squarely within the forgiveness regulation. I also have filed pro bono asylum applications for the wife and son."

The woman and her new baby daughter, born in the United States, face physical abuse by her tribe if they are sent back to her country of origin, and the son, because of his disabilities, will be construed as someone possessed by evil spirits, resulting in likely abuse, as well. And the family will be split apart.

"USCIS has just given her a notice to appear for a removal hearing before an immigration judge," Paparelli said. "For the son, I fear a similar outcome. Because justice has not been served, I will defend these clients on a pro bono basis in immigration court, and, if necessary, before the Board of Immigration Appeals and the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals. I believe in justice, however long it may take."

Paparelli is outspoken about the changes he thinks need to be made in U.S. immigration policy and practice.

"I would like to see far more procedural due process injected into the U.S. immigration system," he said.

Paparelli also is active in legal and regulatory issues involved in using blockchain technology - a synchronized ledger database whose data is independently validated, distributed and shared throughout a network. How might this affect immigration issues?

"Imagine that the U.S. immigration authorities had used a blockchain-based registry system to track the movements of the mothers, fathers and children the government heartlessly separated," he said. "Blockchain would have made the task of reuniting them far quicker and simpler. Imagine now that all immigration records are maintained using blockchain technology, whether they be applications and petitions for visas and green cards (including the voluminous supporting evidence), or Forms I-9 (Employment Eligibility Verifications).

"To date, the federal government has wasted billions of dollars in automating immigration-related record-keeping, and it has utterly failed in its efforts to stem the tide of fraudulent and forged identity documents and work permits. Blockchain technology would be far more cost-effective and accurate. It would also help employers verify the identity and employment eligibility of the countless workers who are hired in the United Sates every day."

Paparelli's practice covers every aspect of immigration law, and his clients range from huge corporations to asylum seekers.

"I dislike bullies, and I fight them every day in my work as an immigration lawyer representing clients that are rich or poor, powerful or powerless."

Published: Tue, Oct 30, 2018