Baltimore lawyer Edward N. Leavy can relate to Zoe Baird, and he says many other working couples can, too.
Mr. Leavy, an immigration specialist with the law firm Weinberg & Green, says he once spent 2 1/2 years haggling with U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service officials to gain legal status for his Salvadoran housekeeper.
Many young families employ illegal aliens as housekeepers and nannies in violation of U.S. immigration laws -- often, he says, because it takes as many as eight years for the aliens to get permanent visas that make them legal residents.
QUESTION: How big is the problem with illegal aliens working as housekeepers in the U.S., or is the Zoe Baird case a rarity?
ANSWER: There are many, many of these illegal housekeepers who are taking care of infants in cases where both parents are working. They're also taking care of invalid old people.
People are coming to me and saying, "My housekeeper has been working for me for four years illegally. The Immigration and Naturalization Service is aware of it, the State Department's aware of it, the Labor Department's aware of it, Social Security's aware of it. Everybody knows what's going on, but nobody sees fit to do anything about it. Nobody wants to legalize it. Nobody wants to make it legitimate."
Q.: If the law isn't being enforced, then why is there a need to do anything about it?
A.: Laws should be passed in order to be obeyed, just as we should enforce speeding laws. The 55 mph speed limit should either be set at 65, or people should be pulled over when they drive 65.
I think it makes more sense to have the law fit with the practicality and reality, and then enforce it.
Q.: Could you explain why it is more difficult for unskilled aliens to become legal residents than it is for skilled workers?
A.: Congress said in 1990 it recognizes that for America to compete internationally, we're going to have to bring in a lot of immigrants. But Congress then said that the only immigrants we are really going to bring in are skilled workers.
And while Congress more than tripled -- from 40,000 to 140,000 -- the number of permanent-resident visas that would be given out every year, it said that for unskilled workers the U.S. is going to give out only 10,000 visas every year.
The fact of the matter is that 60,000 to 70,000 American employers apply every year to state departments of labor and the U.S. Department of Labor for labor certification so that they can fill unskilled labor jobs with aliens.
There is a backup (of unskilled aliens awaiting visas) and that backup is growing quickly.
Q.: How does this backup affect illegal aliens and their employers?
A.: The alien is going to have to wait for seven or eight years to become legal, and that's exactly what happened with Zoe Baird. The Peruvians working for her would have had to wait for seven or eight years.
Q.: Are unskilled aliens and skilled people treated differently when trying to immigrate to the United States?
And what should be done to eliminate this disparate treatment?
A.: Congress should give unskilled aliens the same rights they give skilled workers.
If close to 100,000 American employers are saying, "We're desperate, we need somebody to work in child care, we need somebody to work in restaurants," they should be treated the same as the ice hockey teams I represent, or the theatrical producers I represent, or the large corporations I represent.
These employers can call me and say, "Ed, I need a computer scientist, or I need an ice hockey player," and I can bring that person into the country in a matter of a couple of weeks.
Q.: What's your answer to those who say that no one who enters this country illegally should be allowed to stay? Obviously, thousands do so.
A.: Much of this has to be considered on a case-by-case basis. If you find that someone enters the country because he was a refugee from Vietnam or Haiti, he should be given more sympathy than someone who just decides to come here illegally from Canada.
You can't just place a blanket over people who come here illegally and say they shouldn't be allowed to stay. You have to find out, "Why did they come?"
Q.: You must hear charges that you're helping immigrants take jobs away from American citizens. How do you respond?
A.: In terms of immigrants, you're talking about people who are taking many of the jobs that Americans don't want to take.
I understand the argument about high unemployment in the U.S., but I'm not bringing up my children to be somebody's nanny, or to be a housekeeper, or a doorman or a dishwasher -- and I don't expect that other people in this country are either.
We are bringing in people from Third World, poverty-stricken countries, who are filling the roles that were filled a generation ago by women and other people in the community who don't want those jobs any more.
Q.: How can you be sure of that?
A.: If we find that an American wants a job that an illegal alien is applying for, and is qualified for that job, we must defer to the American.
There's a very careful legal process to make sure that before an immigrant is allowed to receive a green card, allowing him or her to work legally in this country, that we go through a process with the Department of Labor.
We recruit very, very carefully to prove whether or not there is an American ready and willing to take that job.
Q.: What happens when people leave their jobs after receiving green cards?
A.: I really believe I am helping bring people here who are going to constructive.
Q.: One of the criticisms leveled at U.S. immigration policies is racial bias, especially against people with African heritage who are detained at the border while immigrants from European countries have an easier time getting into the U.S. Does this happen? If so, how can it be justified?
A.: There certainly is a class bias. Immigration law says if you come to the U.S. and invest a million dollars and employ 20 Americans you can get a green card.
Is there a racial bias? Absolutely, there is a racial bias. And that goes back historically.
Is there a racial bias against Haitians? Sure.
I have lots of clients from Nigeria. One of them is a woman who was divorced in Nigeria and came here and married an American. Immigration and Naturalization doesn't recognize the divorce and says she's a bigamist. She's been fighting INS for years.
Would they do that to someone from France or England? Absolutely not.