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Lokvani Talks To Michelle Vakili

Ranjani Saigal

Michele M. Vakili is a partner at Vakili Karimi LLC in Boston.  Vakili Karimi LLC is a full service immigration law office representing companies, families and individuals.  Ms. Vakili has particular expertise in the area of immigration and criminal law, as she is aware that a minor criminal matter may affect one’s status in the U.S. if he/she is not a U.S. citizen.  Although U.S. Immigration Law is the office’s main specialization, Vakili Karimi law office also provides the following services to their clients as well: real estate law; criminal defense law; family law; business/corporate law; and bankruptcy law.

Prior to forming Vakili Karimi LLC, Ms. Vakili founded and ran her own law office, Vakili & Associates, P.C. for approximately six years.  Ms. Vakili’s prior worked includes work as a law clerk in the United States District Court in Philadelphia, PA handling many cases dealing with the complex issues of criminal and immigration law. It was during this time of Attorney Vakili’s work that she saw first hand the implementation of the new immigration laws (IIRAIRA) in the Federal Court system. Ms. Vakili is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), the Women’s Bar Association (WBA), and the National Lawyer’s Guild (NLG).  Ms. Vakili earned her JD from New England School of Law in Boston, Massachusetts and her Bachelor of Arts from Purdue University, W. Lafayette, Indiana.  During law school Ms. Vakili was a member of the Law Review where she served on the Executive Committee, as the Business Managing Editor.

What motivated you to become a lawyer?

In high school I was very skilled in math and science and won many science competitions. I thought I wanted to be a doctor. Later when I was doing my undergraduate work I was very taken with a course on constitutional law. The concept of social justice really interested me. I think this changed my course from being a doctor to that of a lawyer. It is funny that my last name is “Vakili’ which is a Farsi word. The is very close to the Hindi word ‘Vakil’, which  means lawyer. Perhaps my ancestors were lawyers and i wonder if it was my destiny.

Why did you choose to focus on immigration?

I started out wanting to be a trial lawyer.  I was very lucky to land my first clerkship in the Federal Court in Philadelphia.  It was at that time that the IIRAIRA , the new immigration laws were being implemented. The job became extremely challenging for no one really quite understood the new set of laws. The experience proved very valuable to me and I developed empathy for people having immigration issues.

Later when I decided to start my own practice, I worked as a bar advocate attorney, which allowed me to take assignment cases by the courts of Massachusetts. This bar advocate work was to help those who could not afford to pay for their own attorney.  Being a  bar advocate attorney is a tough job as the case load is high and one has to work very quickly to understand and present the case. It was very exciting and I gained invaluable experience in trial work.

While the cases were often criminal in nature, many were tied in with immigration. In some cases the criminal offence was minor, i.e., misdemeanor offenses, and if immigration was involved the laws at times necessitated deportation proceedings.  Although the punishment/deposition should deter and/or fit the criminal act committed, if found guilty,  deportation however, seemed severe for a small offense.  When I had my first case that involved both criminal defense and immigration I decided to throw myself into it and learn as much as I could about immigration. I found it most interesting. Later I worked on becoming an expert in immigration law and I love working in this field.

How does your office differentiate itself from other immigration lawyers?

We are an office that does Federal Court Litigation.  What this means is that if for any reason a green card or a visa processing gets stuck or lost we will request a trial and get a decision.

We also are happy to take cases that have a time pressures associated with them.  We never shirk from handling any complicated cases.

Since we have both criminal defense and immigration expertise we are also willing to take on cases that may involve a mix of the areas.

We also provide clients with support on real estate law, criminal defense law, family law, business/corporate law and bankruptcy law. This helps us provide a wide range of services, some interdisciplinary to our customers.

Some immigration laws seem so unfair. What suggestions do you have for the Indian community to enable change?

I would urge you to talk to your congressman. They have been known to be very helpful in address specific cases and speeding things up when the law does seem to take its own course.

Lobbying is a very powerful activity. I was very surprised to find that while all other countries come under the same cap for the H1-B visa, Australians have their own special category – E3. Thus they do not fall under the common category. Also while the E3 is the same as H1-B, spouse of an E3 is allowed to work.  Someone obviously pushed hard to have such a law in place.

We encourage those eligible for naturalization to do so, so that they may vote and have a more proactive voice in the political process.
I think the Indian American community could specially be benefited with

• An increase in H1-B quota
• H-4 (H1-B dependent) eligibility to work
• Special visas for spouse of Green card holder
• Locking in the age limit of dependents at the time of the application rather than when the actual green card is processed.  This will be a huge benefit to those wanting to bring their brother or sister and their families to the US.
Another reason people should push to gain more visa numbers is people from India and China have an even greater backlog/waiting period than other countries, which is unfortunate because a lot of necessary talent comes from India. 

I feel it is it is important for the members of the Indian American community to take active interest in understanding the immigration laws and suggesting reforms that could have a positive impact on their lives

You have been supportive of Indian organizations like Saheli. Why do you like working with the Indian American community?

I feel that they are extremely warm and welcoming. With respect to Saheli, I always like to help causes that help social justice prevail. It was my motivation to becoming a lawyer, developing my expertise in immigration law, and building a firm to become a resource for the Indian community.

Could we request you to outline a couple of commonly seen immigration issues and address them?

1. Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) – As we all know, the U.S. is in great need of CIR.  It has been all over the news, and was most recently addressed by President Bush during his State of the Union speech.  Although it is uncertain as to when it will occur, it certainly is an issue and I do believe that CIR will happen within the next year or so.

2. Conditional/Temporary Lawful Permanent Residency (LPR)/”green card” – When an individual marries a US citizen and they obtain LPR status before the couple has been married for 2 years, the non-USC is given what is known as a “conditional” or “temporary” green card.  After 2 years of obtaining LPR status, the LPR  must remove this conditional status, however sometimes for what ever reasons, the marriage did not work out.  Unfortunately, this does happen.  There is however a way to remove the conditional/temporary status without the US citizen spouse.  So, we see these cases in our office.

3. Domestic Violence – If a non-USC is in a marriage where there is either physical abuse and/or mental cruelty, he/she may file what is known as a “self-petition” to obtain his/her lawful permanent residency.  In order to pursue this option, the non-US citizen must have been married to either a LPR or US citizen spouse when the abuse occurred.  If one is not married to a USC or LPR, but finds him/herself in this situation, there is another visa option available.  These cases as most, require that our office conduct a thorough intake with the prospective applicant/client. 

4. Naturalization – Many individuals from India (especially elderly parents of USC’s) who are LPR’s frequently travel to and from India and the United States.  It is important to carefully review all travel before applying for Citizenship, as there are very strict requirements that must be satisfied before an individual can Naturalize. 

Thanks so much for your time.

Thank you.


(Michelle Vakili's practive is located in Boston and she can be reached at 617.292.3636. )

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