Caesar and Maria Teresa Randazzo arrived
in this country 11 years ago. During a car
trip through the South in 1976 they drove
into downtown Chattanooga and immedi ately noticed something that others might
have missed. "Nobody there was speaking
with a broken English accent," said Ran dazzo who stands just over five feet tall and has a personality as sunny as his native Sicily. This led them to wonder if there was an Italian restaurant in Chattanooga.
So the next day they searched. They found some pizza places, "but when you walked in the door, there was no smell, you know spices, like oregano," said 37- year-old Randazzo, moving his hands in ever-widening circles as if he were about to toss a pizza dough in the air. The Randazzos decided to give Chattanoogans real Italian cuisine.
The result was "Pizza Caesar and Maria Teresa's," a 350-seat restaurant. The Randazzos also own a small pizzeria, a $150,000 home-cum-swimming pool, five cars and two dogs. They employ 30 people, were written up in the local newspapers, featured in the Chattanooga Cook Book and asked to demonstrate how to make pizza on television. One of their three children was born here.
But trouble walked into the Randazzos' restaurant recently in the form of a man with a badge who an- nounced, "I've been looking for you for 11 years."
So Randazzo, who had overstayed his tourist visa by 11 years, flew to Washington and went straight to lawyer Michael Maggio's white- walled, high-ceilinged office in an Adams-Morgan town house.
lawyers in this city,
Maggio has de-
veloped a flourishing,
high-profile practice. His boyishly round face and rust-hued mustache would not seem out of place in a barbershop quartet. But Maggio, 36, has a reputation as an aggressive, flamboyant, politically tuned advocate for those who must cope with U.S. immigration regulations.
"If I were an immigrant in an illegal status I would want Michael Maggio for my attorney," said Kellogg Whittick, the former district director of the Immigration and Naturalization Service in Washington.
Maggio is known among his colleague for liking the limelight. If controversy is swirling about a foreign embassy, Maggio is likely to be there. He was one of the lawyers representing the Iranian embassy during the hostage crisis. And when the Sandanistas of Nicaragua could not wrest control of their embassy from the dictatorship they overthrew, they hired him to negotiate the transfer.
When Maggio's father (himself a product of an Italian immigrant family) heard his son had decided to be an immigration lawyer he was "horrified," according to Maggio. "To him an immigration lawyer was a sleazy person who could not make a buck and represented clients who didn't know the language or the culture of this country. And that's what they used to be, they were the lowest rung on the Bar."
But times have changed. Increasing numbers of young people are hanging out their shingles as immigration lawyers, raising The American Immigration Lawyers Association's membership to 1,500, twice the number of eight years ago. To cope with awakened student interest, law schools are offering courses in immigration law.
The reason for this expansion is simple: modern communications and transport have put foreigners as close to the United States as the nearest airport, harbor or busstop, shrinking the buffer of distance that once protected our borders.
Add to this a maze of increasingly complex immigration laws and an INS bureaucracy breaking down because it has not been given the manpower, legislation or money to do its job right. The result: a fertile market for immigration lawyers.
Philadelphia-born Maggio stumbled across immigration law while a student at Antioch School of Law. When he helped a Paraguayan woman who had been "brutally tortured" gain political asylum in the United States, he saw a way to combine a legal practice with his interest in Latin American affairs and human rights.
His practice is deliberately located in the heart of his market: heavily Hispanic- populated Adams Morgan. The two-story offices, complete with fireplace and oriental rugs, are decorated with posters in Spanish celebrating the Nicaraguan revolution and "Solidarity" with Salvadorans. His six-person staff includes his wife Candace Kattar, a 29-year-old lawyer. Both he and Kattar are fluent in Spanish, and the receptionist answers the phone with a "Buenos dias." A quarter-page ad in a Spanish-language community newspaper lists the range of services they offer: "political asylum, permanent residence, labor certificates and defense against deportations."
These are the services that attract the undocumented Salvadorans who make up about 40 percent of Maggio's clientele. Many are people like Gloria Salamanca, who washes dishes in a Bethesda Chinese restaurant. The day she came to Maggio's office dressed in blue jeans and a red and white striped cotton blouse, she was desperate. She had received a letter from INS ordering her out of the country in one month. She has been here five years.
Salamanca, whose bobbed hair and a baby doll face make her look younger than her 37 years, related how she had paid another immigration lawyer $1,500 to make her stay here legal. But without telling her, the lawyer misstated her past work experience to the U.S. Department of Labor, botching her chances of getting a labor certification that would allow her to stay, she said.
Maggio's office is helping her apply for political asylum, citing war conditions in El Salvador as a reason for her not going back.
Like many immigration lawyers, Maggio favors a change in INS regulations toward Salvadorans, arguing that those caught here illegally should be given a reprieve from deportation until the war is over. The State Department, to whom INS defers on such matters, maintains that the war is not bad enough for that. As a result, lawyers are urging Salvadoran clients to apply for political asylum.
This exasperates many INS officials who regard the widespread use of the asylum process as a "dilatory tactic" of lawyers to help clients avoid deportation and apply political pressure to change U.S. policy in El Salvador.
"Our job as lawyers is to defend our clients vigorously," says Maggio. "You would be a bad lawyer if you didn't."
As to a political agenda, Maggio is candid. "I'm wielding and grinding a poltical ax against U.S. policy in El Salvador because U.S. policy in El Salvador affects the way U.S. immigration law is applied to Salvadorans."
Maggio's non-His panic clientele is a
wide spectrum of
George Francois, a 36-year-old Haitian, was brought into the United States illegally in 1974 by some vacationing Americans he met in the Bahamas. After eluding INS agents on several occasions, Francois was eventually apprehended and scheduled to be deported. But he tore off all his clothes, ripped them to shreds and lay down naked in a Miami immigration office so that he could not be driven to the airport and put on a plane back to Haiti.
"When (the INS agents) come in and saw me lying naked, they say, 'He is crazy,'" Francois said, smiling broadly as he sat in Maggio's office in a beige polyester suit and black tie, stuck with a pin saying "Jesus First." Two more times, INS agents attempted to deport Francois and two more times, he stripped, knowing there was "no way they can let me walk naked in the airport."
By the time he came to Maggio's firm, he was married to an American and had one child. These family ties qualified him to ask for permanent residence. But because of Francois' protests, INS had ruled him mentally incompetent and therefore ineligible for permanent residence.
Maggio got psychiatrists to examch School of Law. When ine his client, whom they found sane. "They said he had acted appropriately in the stress situation he was in," Maggio explained. INS recently granted Francois permanent residency. For this he paid Maggio $1,300. Maggio says his fees are on a sliding scale of ability-to-pay basis, "consciously" pegged lower than other lawyers. "We make up for it with volume; we think the fees are too high," he said.
For some clients, even
Maggio cannot offer
any relief: for example,
the two foreigners who
--though married to each other--both married U.S. citizens to get citizenship. The two couples lived together (each with his own real mate) for three years with the foreigners paying the rent. But the American "spouses," who got $3,000 for cooperating in the marriages, have now disappeared and the foreigners are still illegally in the United States. "It's a sad case, I don't know what I can do except help them get divorces from people they were never really married to," said Maggio. Foreigners often come to him to confide their plans for a bogus marriage in order to become legal, Maggio said. He advises them not to do it.
Since there is a shortage of domestic workers in the Washington area, another good slice of Maggio's practice is helping the foreign women who work as housekeepers and nannies to get permission from the U.S. Labor Department to work here legally. Maggio helps them do the paperwork.
Maggio also deals with the State Department on an informal basis, particularly when he has a controversial and well-known client such as the Venezuelan literary critic Angel Rama. A recent INS refusal to grant Rama permanent residence on the grounds he is a subversive caused an outcry in Latin America. "I've talked informally with people (at State); you just try to explain . . . that deciding the Rama case in his favor is also favorable for the U.S.," said Maggio.
Of course many of his clients are less well known and less likely to walk in: they call-in from the detention cells at the local INS offices. Olajide Eniola spent three days in one of those cells before he got Maggio's name from a cellmate and called him. The tall, lean Nigerian who is a student at Howard University got picked up for working while in the United States on a student visa, which is grounds for immediate deportation.
Although Maggio is known among his colleagues for an aggressive confrontational style with INS officials, when arguing Eniola's case he proved the picture of conciliation. With one hand on his client's shoulder and the other holding a cigarette, Maggio conferred in hushed tones with the INS prosecutor, William Kummings, in the front lobby of the local INS offices. There was more discussion behind closed doors in the clerk's office.
They agreed that if Eniola, 26, would not contest the fact that he had violated his student visa and was eligible for deportation, INS would postpone his deportation until he finished this semester at Howard. Eniola said he agreed to pay Maggio of fee of $500 when they first talked.
"Being a good advocate requires persistence," says Maggio. "(INS people) sometimes tell you I'm a pain in the ass, but that's part of the business."
"It's a love-hate relationship," was how INS officer Neville Cramer termed his dealings with Maggio. "He defends his clients to the hilt. I must say I don't question his integrity. Sometimes I question his methods but I'm sure he sometimes questions mine."
Maggio has told Chattanooga's pizza impresario he can probably help him get a resident visa offered to small investors. "There's no question," Maggio admits, "that a good lawyer can make the difference between being de- ported tomorrow and not being deported at all." Still, the arguments made on behalf of a client have got to be credible, said Maggio. "You can't go in and make arguments and look like an idiot, you've got to think of your reputation and credibility for all your clients' sake.
"You've got to make sure thto examch School of Law. When at what you say passes the 'laugh test.'"