Teaneck resident Isaac Fromm, who has been practicing immigration law for some 30 years, acknowledges that not much headway is likely to be made on the issue this year.
"It will be difficult until after the elections," said the attorney, who was appointed in December to the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Advisory Panel on Immigrant Policy.
The panel charged with formulating recommendations in the areas of education, citizenship status, civil rights, fair housing, health care, language proficiency, and employment and workforce training consists of two legislative members, seven commissioners, and ‘6 public members appointed by the governor. Its job, said Fromm, is to offer Gov. Jon Corzine "some coherent advice."
While a comprehensive immigration policy must be formulated on the federal level, said Fromm, noting that President Bush had tried twice to regularize national immigration policy, there are specific issues that can be dealt with by each state. One of those issues is drivers’ licenses.
"It’s a big issue right now," said Fromm, an attorney with Barst & Mukamal, which maintains offices in New York and New Jersey. "People are driving without licenses, and without insurance."
He noted that New York’s Gov. Elliot Spitzer had recently proposed measures to deal with this, suggesting some form of special licenses for undocumented aliens.
"There was a great uproar," he said, adding that Spitzer’s proposal became "a political issue for people who want votes from certain segments of the population."
The immigration attorney who was born in Tomaszow, Poland, and speaks Polish, Spanish, Yiddish, and French said, "These people exist and they do a lot of jobs that others don’t want to do. The question is, how do we integrate them into society" while satisfying legal regulations and societal needs. "You don’t know if the people living next door" are documented or not, he said, pointing out that there has been a large influx of people from South America and the Caribbean nations.
Since each municipality in the state has its own police department, said Fromm, policies on checking immigration status may vary from town to town. In some towns, for example, the police may ask for proof of documentation during a routine traffic stop, while in others, the police choose not to become involved in this practice.
But, Fromm noted, "since the terrible murder of the college students in Newark, the state decided that if someone is arrested for a felony, there is an obligation to check immigration status."
The attorney said that since 1976, the field has changed a lot. "The only thing that’s the same is that people keep wanting to come here, to live the American dream," he said. He said that a recent comment from a legislator in Arizona suggesting that immigrants commit more crimes is "nonsense," although the thought appeals to people who feel threatened by the new immigrants, particularly in the border states.
Fromm, who served on the Teaneck Planning Board for 10 years and was nominated for the governor’s panel by state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Dist. 37), noted that New Jersey has a large number of undocumented aliens. Based on his 30 years’ experience dealing with immigrants, he said, he is able to bring to the table "the other point of view. They’re not here to break the law and take our jobs," he said, adding that much of his practice is concerned with helping people obtain work visas, representing clients from performers to computer programmers.
"In the ’90s, there was a huge influx of aliens," he said. "Most come legally." But some do not, or else they overstay the time allowed on their visas.
"It’s sad," he said of those who don’t work out visa problems while they are still "legal."
"If they had sought qualified legal advice, it could have been straightened out."