The Asian Journal recently sat down with Robert DuPont, formerly of Reeves & Associates, to discuss his decision to join the firm of Wilner & O'Reilly.
AJ: Congratulations on your move to the Beverly Hills offices of Wilner & O'Reilly. As you know, you've joined an awesome team of well-known lawyers.
RJD: Thank you. This was a positive move for me in what I believe will be a very exciting year in immigration.
AJ: How so?
RJD: Well there has been little constructive change or reform in immigration laws since the passage of IIRAIRA in 1996 - 1997. President Bush has always taken positive stances on immigration and now the business community is starting to get behind efforts to create foreign worker status, raise caps on employment based categories, and as mentioned in his latest speech, to start pushing U.S. research, which as most graduate schools know won't happen without bright young minds from abroad.
After graduating from Yale, I was working at the law firm of Davis Polk & Wardwell in New York City. The work was primarily in the world of finance and business, and there were no illusions in that business community about the importance of immigrants to the health of our economy. Its interesting for me to look back now and see how things really have come full circle for me.
AJ: What is your background and how did you become interested in immigration law?
RJD: I have always been conscious of immigration issues even as an undergraduate student at Yale. Many of my classmates and graduate school teachers were foreign born. I myself am first generation American born of Irish and German parents. I witnessed first hand my father's efforts to "make it" in the United States despite having an accent as strong as Arnold Schwarzenegger's. Additionally, my mother had a very strong drive to push us in our education. Like many of my Filipino and other immigrant clients, I too had a classic upbringing by immigrant parents with strong old world traditional values.
AJ: Aside from your own personal upbringing, when were you first exposed to legal issues dealing with foreign nationals.
RJD: About 15 years ago during my first summer at USC Law School, I worked with the ACLU focusing on civil rights issues. While there, I learned important lessons from that program about the power of federal courts and their role in taming government agencies and forcing them to conform to the laws. These valuable lessons helped me focus my career as an immigrant's advocate in the Federal Courts.
As a second year law student I represented Cuban exiles ("Marielitos") at yearly detention review hearings. Some of these persons had been detained for several years, held because although they were deportable, Cuba would not allow them to return.
AJ: You hinted that your early experiences in the federal courts helped you focus your career. Would you elaborate on this a bit further?
RJD: I knew first hand how important it was for immigrants to be secure in knowing about their future, their ability to remain in the United States and their ability to provide for their family. The issue of family separation always accompanies the concerns of a foreign national. One of the fundamental reasons my mother Naturalized was because she could not bear seeing her children walk through customs and immigration while she was examined by officers concerning her passport, visa and residential status. That is only a separation of several minutes but for a mother it was an eternity.
Prior to heading the litigation department at Reeves & Associates, I was a law clerk with Judges Wasserman and Charles in the California Superior Courts. I was helping the both judges process and adjudicate as many as 40 motions per week. It was there I was taught not only what impressed judges with regard to a lawyer's written work, but the importance of individuals having access to the court system. This was very important when it came to wage and hour disputes and breach of contract actions where employers tried to take advantage of employees.
AJ: You have been described as the heart and soul of the federal litigation department at Reeves & Associates. Please briefly comment on your experience there.
First and foremost, I am thankful for the opportunity to have worked at the Reeves firm. I was exposed to a host of issues while there. As a shareholder of that firm as well as the head of the federal litigation department, I am pleased to say that I helped thousands of people. Before I go on, I want to extend my sincere best wishes to Mr. Reeves and his staff and wish them continued well-being.
AJ: Since becoming an immigration lawyer/federal litigator years back, what would you consider to be some of your major accomplishments as an Attorney?
RJD: Aside from compelling the government (by way of federal court action) to act on hundreds of delayed cases and reuniting families that were separated for years, I am exceptionally proud of my work regarding the handling of V-visas and age-out of children in V-2 Visa status. This again goes to the issue of family re-unification.
The V visa was intended to allow persons and their children who had waited three years or more for immigrant visa processing to enter the United States and complete V-visa processing here. In fact, family re-unification was the primary purpose of the enactment of the V visa. The Immigration Service enacted regulations that would allow them to refuse employment authorization and compel children who reach 21 years of age in V-visa status to return home.
I obtained a 9th circuit court of appeal ruling striking down these unfair regulations and court orders directing the service to continue to honor V-visa status regardless of the age of the individual. As a result a nation-wide policy memo was issued by USCIS changing their practices; immigrants throughout the United States were benefited by the case that I filed.
AJ: Are there any issues that you have dealt with that are unique to the Philippines?
RJD: Yes. I have done some interesting work on the issue of opting out of re-classification from F-2B to F-1 status when a parent-petitioner naturalizes. The Immigration Service and the Department of State have both refused to re-classify individuals and recognize current priority dates. Again this is a case of the Immigration Service misreading a statute in order to deny a benefit. I have obtained relief for numerous individuals in this situation.
AJ: What motivated you to move to the Beverly Hills office of Wilner & O'Reilly?
RJD: Kelly, Richard and myself worked together years ago at Reeves. Several years after they left the firm, I reached out to them because knowing them from the past, and seeing daily what they do for people, I realized once again that we share a common vision with regard to community outreach, service to clients, family and lobbying for real positive change both in the court and our representatives in Congress and the Senate.
As I reach my twelfth year in practice I was looking forward to some positive changes and expanded area of practice, which will now be possible.
We strongly believe that Los Angeles and Western Los Angeles in particular could benefit from the resources and skills of an honest and reliable full service immigration law firm with a reputation for candor, credibility and results. Those that read this newspaper are well aware of W&O's stable of famous entertainers and the visas that are obtained for these performing artists. Entertainment based immigration and cultural-exchange visitors are an important and growing area of our practice.
Richard and I have co-litigated cases in the past and we both look forward to doing this again. Kelly and I have worked together on numerous cases. Kelly's experience as an officer with the Immigration Service results in priceless practical advice that makes possible resolution of disputes through litigation or otherwise. Simply, we can get things done.
AJ: What general advice do you have for immigrants and their families?
RJD: Never lose faith and never give up on your dreams. If you are determined to come to the United States and contribute to our great country you can do it. Secondly, do it the right way, short cuts and bad advice from paralegals or non-immigration lawyers can do real and lasting harm to your future in the United States. Immigration law and procedures are designed to invite immigrants to "do it yourself". You really need an educated and experience attorney to guide you past the pitfalls and obstacles. I like to tell clients to let us worry about the government so you can live your dreams.
AJ: What do you think is the biggest issue facing immigrants today?
RJD: In large part I believe the greatest injustice is for persons who feel trapped in a relationship or in employment and are taken advantage of because they simply do not know the law. Repeatedly I have seen recruiter abuse in the medical field with Nurses who are sold one bill of goods in Manila and then compelled to enter into terrible contracts or forced to accept substandard wages once they arrive in the U.S. Recruiters and contractors get away with this activity with false threats against their immigrant status.
In many ways, I want to widen our focus from the government to fair treatment of immigrants by employers.
AJ: Thank you for your time Mr. DuPont. We know we'll be seeing more of you in the not too distant future. Until then, more power!