Home School Parents to Petition High Court

A couple who fled Germany to home school their children but have been denied U.S. asylum, say they are preparing to ask the Supreme Court to hear the case. They also told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that they are working with Congress to try to change the law. The Romeikes moved to East Tennessee in 2008 after an escalating fight with German officials. The family initially was granted asylum by a Memphis immigration judge, but that ruling was overturned. In May, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals said the family did not meet the criteria for asylum, finding that Germany does not single out religious minorities for persecution. The family’s lawyer, however, disagrees saying Germany uses the mandatory schooling law to limit the growth of religious minorities.

read more »

GOP Lawmakers Split on Immigration Bill

Tennessee GOP House members remain critical of the immigration reform bill that their fellow Tennessee Republicans, senators Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander, helped pass in the Senate. The House Republican Conference meets today to decide what, if any, route to take on the issue. Congressional Democrats insisted Tuesday they will not agree to any immigration bill that lacks a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants living illegally in the United States. The Tennessean has more.

read more »

Knox County to Participate in Deportation Program

Less than a year after the Davidson County Sheriff’s office halted its participation in a controversial program that gives local law enforcement the authority to enforce federal immigration laws, the Knox County Sheriff’s Office has announced it will participate in the program. At a meeting last week, the county sheriff heard from critics who argue the program leads to racial profiling, separation of families and distrust of law enforcement. He was not swayed, Knoxnews reports. After initially applying to the program in 2010, Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones said he expects to finalize a memorandum of understanding with the federal government within the next few weeks.

read more »

State Officials: Arizona Ruling Does Not Impact State

Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett said a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling concerning Arizona's law requiring proof of citizenship for people registering to vote does not impact Tennessee’s election laws, WSMV reports. In a news release last week, Hargett said that Tennessee doesn't require that kind of proof when registering to vote, instead requiring the voter to swear that he or she is a citizen.

read more »

Court Grants 4 Case Reviews

The Tennessee Supreme Court has granted review in two criminal cases and two civil matters, Raybin-Perky Hot List reports. The criminal case issues include an ineffective assistance of counsel claim in a death penalty case regarding mental health proof; and whether expunged convictions may still be challenged in post-conviction proceedings where there are lingering immigration consequences. On the civil front, the court will determine whether a trial court may require a prevailing party to draft a summary judgment order without offering its own legal reasoning, and whether an inmate in state custody, but in a privately operated facility, may only bring a lawsuit in the county in which the facility is located as opposed to the corporation headquarters in Nashville. 

read more »

State Election Officials to Review Arizona Ruling

Tennessee election officials say they plan to review yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling that Arizona’s voter identification requirement is inconsistent with federal law, the Associated Press reports. Two years ago, Tennessee enacted legislation that allows election officials to purge noncitizen residents from election rolls. Under the law, anyone listed as a noncitizen has 30 days to present proof of citizenship or be removed from the rolls. A spokesperson for the Secretary of State says election officials will review the ruling to see if it affects Tennessee law. The Memphis Daily News has the story.

read more »

Obama, Business Leaders Support Immigration Reform

Immigration legislation making its way through the U.S. Senate gained the support of Tennessee business leaders last week. The Tennessean reports that representatives from the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation, Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. of Tennessee, the Nashville Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and others announced support for the plan, which also was endorsed by President Obama last week. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he hopes to have a vote on the bill by July 4.

read more »

Court Strikes Down Arizona’s Voter I.D. Law

The U.S. Supreme Court today struck down Arizona's requirement that would-be voters submit proof of citizenship, the ABA Journal reports. The majority opinion, authored by Justice Antonin Scalia, found that the law conflicted with the federal "motor voter" law, which allows individuals to register to vote without supplying proof of citizenship. The court also was unconvinced that the federal voter registration form needs to be changed to include additional information, which the state said it needed to determine a voter’s eligibility. But Scalia said the state could petition the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to alter the form and then appeal any decision not to make changes.

Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito Jr. dissented from the decision arguing that it interprets “an ambiguous federal statute in a way that brushes aside the constitutional authority of the states" since "under the Constitution, the states, not Congress, have the authority to establish the qualifications of voters in elections for members of Congress." Civil liberties groups such as the ACLU applauded the ruling saying it invalidated a burdensome requirement that restricted citizens' ability to register to vote." Writing at SCOTUSblog, however, one law professor warned the ruling should not be read too broadly as the case “involved a question of statutory construction, not a constitutional challenge."

read more »

Tenn. Lawmakers Looking at Immigration Bill

Tennessee lawmakers are voicing varied opinions on Senate Bill 744 during debate on comprehensive immigration reform, the Tennessean reports. U.S. Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander have questioned the border-security provisions, while Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, says the bill looks “promising.” Reps. Scott DesJarlais, R-Jasper, and Stephen Fincher, R-Frog Jump, say they are skeptical of the Senate bill.

read more »

Educators Push for Immigration Reform

Twenty-one leaders of Tennessee’s colleges and universities have sent letters to U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, urging their support for a bipartisan plan that would ensure foreign-born students educated in the U.S. have a clear path to work in this country after graduation. The educators say current immigration policy threatens “America’s pre-eminence as a global center of innovation and prosperity” because of its inability to retain skilled foreign-born graduates. The Chattanooga Times Free Press has the story.

read more »

Attorney’s Police Aspirations Evolved into Legal Career

Memphis native Shayla Purifoy had planned to become a police officer before deciding that the legal profession was the right fit for her. She began working on domestic violence cases through a general civil litigation clinic after taking a social welfare and policy course at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law. Now with Memphis Area Legal Services, Purifoy works with immigrant women who are victims of domestic abuse. “I just enjoy helping people,” she told the Memphis Daily News.

read more »

Appeals Court: Jury Should Have Heard Shackled Pregnant Inmate Case

The case of a pregnant Nashville inmate who was shackled during labor is headed back to district court to be heard by a jury after a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that summary judgment granted in the case was inappropriate because there were disputed facts that needed to be decided by a jury. While the appeals court found that “shackling of pregnant detainees while in labor” violates the Constitution’s prohibition against “unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain,” it said there are exceptions when a prisoner poses a danger or a flight risk. The court concluded that determining whether Juana Villegas posed a flight risk should have been decided by a jury not by a judge, Knoxnews reports.

read more »

Education, Jobs, TennCare Top Chamber’s Priority List

The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce released its 2013 state legislative agenda yesterday, identifying its top priorities for Tennessee lawmakers. The Nashville Business Journal reports that improving primary and secondary education topped the list in terms of importance, followed by job creation, support for the federally funded TennCare/Medicaid expansion, workers’ compensation reform and immigration reform.

read more »

Immigration Attorney Finds Ideal Job with CLC

Johnna Bailey began working as immigration attorney for the Community Legal Center (CLC) in January, an ideal job for her given her nonprofit background. “It’s what I dreamed of returning to after law school,” she told the Memphis Daily News. After college, Bailey worked as a program coordinator for the family literacy program at a refugee resettlement agency in Chicago. That inspired her to go to law school where she then served as an associate in a private immigration group. Now at the CLC, Bailey represents clients and trains lawyers to take on pro bono immigration cases. She said the Memphis legal community has been willing and eager to help when called.

read more »

Senators Announce Principles to Guide Immigration Overhaul

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators has reached agreement on principles that could serve as the basis for sweeping overhaul of the nation's immigration laws. The outline calls for creating a “path to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants in the country, securing the border, establishing a better tracking system for visa holders, creating a more secure employment verification system, reforming the green card program, and creating an agricultural worker program. has more on the proposal.

read more »

Memphis Lawyer Sees Hope for Immigration Reform

Political and economic trends are telling Memphis immigration lawyer Greg Siskind that the likelihood of immigration reform is better than it has been in some time. The leader of the Siskind Susser law firm and national commentator on immigration law, Siskind told The Memphis Daily News that the role Latinos played in the recent election and the need for skilled immigrants in some areas of the economy make this a politically ideal time to pursue immigration reform.

read more »

Immigration Top Priority for Senate Judiciary Committee

The Senate Judiciary Committee will dedicate most of its time this spring to comprehensive immigration reform including changes for technology companies and agricultural businesses, committee chair Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, said Wednesday. The Blog of the Legal Times reports that the committee will begin public hearings next month. Leahy also stated the committee will continue oversight of the nation's counterterrism efforts and protecting civil liberties, including the administration’s use of drones abroad as well as in the U.S.

read more »

Williamson Sheriff Settles Immigrant Detention Suit

A federal suit accusing the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office of illegally holding suspects while deputies determined their immigration status has settled after the judge overseeing the case ruled that the county was obligated to hold the suspects on a request from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. With that opinion, the Tennessean reports, the city opted to make a small settlement rather than pursue a jury trial. Six plaintiffs will receive $2,500 in damages, while an additional $7,000 in attorney’s fees will be paid.

read more »

Court: Sheriff Can Perform Immigration Duties

The Davidson County Sheriff’s office did not violate Metro Charter or other state laws when it contracted with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to perform immigration enforcement duties, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled today. The court ruled against plaintiffs Daniel Renteria- Villegas, David Gutierrez-Turcios and Rosa Landaverde, who challenged the agreement arguing that only the Chief of Police has authority under the Charter to provide immigration enforcement. Read the full opinion.

read more »

Feds Step Up Effort to Combat Crime Against Memphis Area Hispanics

U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton joined Latino leaders in Memphis Monday to announce a partnership to attack crime against the Hispanic community, the Commercial Appeal reports. Regional Mexican Consul David Manuel Preciado Juarez came from Little Rock to express his support for strengthening relations between law enforcement and the region's more than 700,000 Hispanic residents.

read more »

Judge Orders Legal Fees in Shackling Case

U.S. District Judge William Haynes Jr. issued an order today demanding that the Nashville government pay $1.1 million in fees and other expenses to Juana Villegas, who, in 2008, was shackled to a hospital bed hours before giving birth. Last August, a jury awarded Villegas $200,000 for having her rights violated. Metro government appealed the award and there is a hearing on the case next month. The order today is limited to legal fees and expenses. Haynes also certified Villegas' application for a special visa created to protect undocumented residents who are crime victims. The Tennessean has more.

read more »

MTSU Constitution Day Celebration Includes Naturalization Ceremony

About 300 people took the oath to become Untied States citizens yesterday at Middle Tennessee State University during a Constitution Day celebration, News Channel 5 reports. U.S. Magistrate Judge Joe B. Brown held court session in the university gymnasium, while Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Gary Wade served as guest speaker.

read more »

Immigration Law Leads to Spike in Records Requests

The recent change in federal immigration policy is causing a surge in transcript requests from Metro Nashville schools, officials believe. Undocumented immigrants need to prove their school record as part of new rules that allow those who entered the country illegally as children to remain and work without fear of deportation for at least two years, WPLN reports. “We expected some requests, but we really had no idea of the volume that was going to take place," Taffy Marsh, director of Metro’s records center said. "So we have hired five temporary employees to help us process that volume. … We have a 10-day turnaround time right now, and we are barely managing that."

read more »

Judge OKs Arizona Immigration Law

A federal judge has ruled that Arizona authorities can enforce the most contentious part of the state’s immigration law, which has been dubbed the "show me your papers" provision. The ruling clears the way for police, while enforcing other laws, to question the immigration status of those they suspect are in the country illegally. The requirement has been at the center of a two-year legal battle that culminated in a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June upholding it. According to WDEF News Channel 12, opponents then filed another suit to block the law, arguing it would lead to racial profiling. The governor's office says the law will go into effect shortly.

read more »

An Immigrant Lawyer’s Story

By Mohammad A. Syed*

There are many immigrant attorneys in the U.S. like myself.   After almost 12 years of law practice with private law firms in both D.C. and Nashville, I have recently started my law firm and focus, in part, on immigration matters.  As I write this, I am still feeling the joy of my very own recently filed application for U.S. citizenship.  This is an important milestone in my life and a good time to share my own immigration journey.

Early years

My father was a student at Brigham Young University from 1978-80 in Provo, Utah while on leave from the Government of Pakistan.  My mother, two sisters and I enjoyed those two years in Provo immensely, and my earliest childhood memories are from those years.  I discovered much later that my father was on a J-1 visa, an exchange visitor agreement between the U.S. and Pakistan governments. 

College Years

In 1993, I was accepted to the University of Rochester. At that time, U.S.-Pakistan relations were good; therefore, it was easy to obtain a visa.  I remember getting stamped for an F-1 student visa the same day as I had my interview at the U.S. consulate in Karachi. 

I finished my studies in December 1996 with a double major in Economics and Political Science, and a minor in legal studies.   After taking the LSAT and finishing my law school applications, I headed back to Pakistan in the winter of 1996.  While back in Pakistan, I got accepted into George Washington Law School in Washington, D.C.  It was an honor and privilege to be studying law in the capital of the United States.  In May 1997, I returned to Rochester to attend my graduation though because my F-1 visa was no longer valid, I traveled on a tourist visa. 

Canadian Permanent Residence

Between college and starting law school, I was sponsored by my aunt, who lived in Canada, for Canadian Permanent Residence.  I spent a month in Canada prior to arriving in D.C. for law school.  At that time, Canadian Permanent Residents did not need visas to enter the U.S.; therefore, all I needed was the I-20 form from George Washington Law School and my Canadian Permanent Resident Card.  My travel to and from the U.S. was greatly facilitated by the Canadian PR card.

Law School

During law school, I used part of my 1 year optional practical training (OPT) for summer jobs.  My first summer job was working for the Office of Corporation Counsel as an unpaid intern; thus, I did not need special authorization.  However, the next summer I worked in a full-time paid position with the D.C. based firm of Ashcraft & Gerel.

During my job search for post-law school employment, some employers, including federal and state governments, were not an option because of my immigration status. Private employers would have to sponsor me for an H1B visa. I had to teach myself about H1B visas so that I could intelligently discuss with employers what they would have to do if they wanted to hire me. Those conversations were always stressful.   I noticed that most employers were not enthusiastic about getting involved in this process.  They feared legal costs and perhaps the uncertainty of whether I would be able to work legally in the U.S.

Attorney at Law!

I graduated from law school in 2000 and passed the New York Bar.  I took an offer from Ashcraft & Gerel and spent 7 wonderful years at that firm.  They did not hesitate to complete the H1B paperwork for me.  The process was simple enough, being a combination of proving that I had the education and experience required for working in a full-time legal position, and the law firm having the ability to pay the prevailing wage.  I stayed in the H1B for two three-year terms for a total of six years.

In 2001, Ashcraft & Gerel applied for permanent residence on my behalf.  This process was more in depth than the H1B.  The employer had to prove that they had searched for a qualified U.S. employee and not having found one, had offered me the job. 

September 11, 2001

This was a horrible day.   In the aftermath of 9/11, Pakistani citizens, no matter whether they were Canadian permanent residents or not, were required to have valid visa stamps in order to enter the U.S.  Since I had originally relied on my Canadian Permanent Residence status to enter the U.S., I never got an H1 visa stamp.

Many people faced denials and others faced delays so long that they lost their jobs or their student enrollment offers expired while they waited for the visas to be processed.  Given the security threat to the U.S., it was understandable that visa processes were delayed.  Therefore, I decided that I would not visit Pakistan and risk being stuck there.  This caused hardship because I missed several of my best friends’ weddings and was also unable to visit my parents.

There were major delays in the approval of the labor certification.  This is the process where the D.C. Government had to certify that the employer had complied with the search for a qualified U.S. worker and was paying me a prevailing wage.  The problem was that D.C. had only one officer responsible for this part unlike some other states where this process moved quicker. 

Stuck in Pakistan for 8 months for H1B visa stamping

In 2004, I decided I had had enough waiting and I needed to visit my parents in Pakistan.  My father was having some health issues and I wanted to be with him.  I discussed my plans with Ashcraft & Gerel and told them that I could not guarantee a return by a certain date.  They said not to worry, go home; so I did. Upon my return, I went straight from the airport to the U.S. Embassy and applied for an H1B visa renewal.  It took eight months to receive my visa and then return to D.C.  During this time, I was admitted to practice law in Pakistan, where I worked at a corporate firm and received some great international experience.  My firm in D.C. was marvelous - they gave me two months paid vacation and then put me on six months of unpaid administrative leave. Afterwards, I resumed employment with them.

Green Card and Writ of Mandamus

Finally, in 2006 my labor certification was approved – a giant step towards getting my green card.  Immediately after this, my I-485 was filed.  My research and discussions with immigration lawyers suggested that the end was in sight and approval should take place within six months.  I would finally be free to work for an employer of my choice.   After seven years of doing complex civil litigation, my professional interests had changed and I wanted to experience something different.  Being restricted to my H1B sponsor became frustrating.  Do not get me wrong, I loved working with Ashcraft & Gerel and shall be indebted to them for my entire life for the experience and their great mentoring.  But I was not ready to commit the rest of my life to the areas of law that were practiced at the firm. 

However, I told myself that I could wait another year and see what happens with the I-485.  After waiting a year, I decided it was time to take charge.  I filed a Writ of Mandamus against the USCIS to expedite the processing of my green card – this is a device to cure undue delay experienced by applicants for immigration.  Luckily it worked and within months my green card was approved!

Nashville to Syed Law Firm, PLLC!

Finally, with my green card in hand, I was ready to change jobs in the fall of 2007.  I was hired by King & Ballow in their antitrust and commercial litigation practice group.  There I had the opportunity to get some great experience in a variety of areas including antitrust litigation and counseling, commercial litigation, labor litigation, and intellectual property.  I also got a chance to contribute articles on immigration matters in the firm’s newsletter, edited by my friend and mentor, Bruce Buchanan. 

After almost four years at King and Ballow, I decided it was time to start my own law firm, and I am now the proud managing principal and founding partner of the Syed Law Firm, PLLC, where I focus on representing persons and businesses of foreign origin in legal matters. Also, I represent professionals, such as physicians and architects, small and medium businesses and non-profits.

I have a strong passion for assisting people who are trying to achieve legal status in this country.  The rewards of family reunification and the opportunity of being rewarded for hard work are very well known to me.  I have worked on cases involving marriage and family-based sponsorship, employment-based cases, and investor-based immigration cases.  I am also proud to be the President of the Board of Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC), a non-profit organization in Tennessee. 


September 2012 was my five-year anniversary of becoming a permanent resident.  Eligibility to apply for citizenship is tied to this date and applications can be made 90 days prior to the fifth year anniversary.  I had been waiting for this moment for a very long time.  Therefore, three months before the fifth anniversary, I gathered all my paperwork and supporting documents and filled out the N-400. It is a pretty straightforward document and the instructions with the form are very helpful.  The most time consuming part for me was to determine with precision the dates and destinations of my trips made outside the U.S. in the past five years as I do travel quite a bit. I took this step seriously because I did not want to unintentionally leave a certain trip out and then be faulted for not being honest!! 

I have now had my fingerprinting/biometrics appointment and am awaiting notification of my interview. I am hopeful that in a few months I will be a citizen!!


*Mohammad (Mo) Ali Syed is the Managing Partner and Founding Principal of the Syed Law Firm, PLLC with offices in Nashville, Washington, D.C., and New York, NY.  He practices in the areas of dispute resolution, healthcare compliance and investigations, business litigation, international business and trade, and immigration.   He may be reached at or (615) 601-0786.

read more »