Direct Import Immigration law expert helps keep dreams alive

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By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

It was not by mere happenstance that Eli Maroko gravitated to the field of immigration law. By family history alone, it appears to have been his destiny.

His father, Simon, who spoke seven languages, was of Dutch descent, immigrating to the U.S. following a series of harrowing experiences during World War II. His mother, Ruth, came to the States from Israel, bringing her talents as a teacher of Hebrew.

The route his father, a psychiatrist, took to a new life in the U.S. would make for a good book, the kind that could inspire future generations of immigrants.

“My father led a far more interesting life than mine,” Maroko said, downplaying his own personal and professional significance. “He twice escaped German captivity during World War II and later fought in Israel’s War of Independence (1948) before coming to Wayne State to finish his education. He led a life worth noting.”

Maroko, despite his protestations, is doing much the same, carving an impressive reputation as an immigration law expert with the Southfield based firm of Jaffe Raitt Heuer and Weiss. There, he is coordinator of the firm’s Immigration Practice Group, while also serving as chairman of Michigan Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

His legal work brings Maroko “great satisfaction,” especially when he assists clients with complex immigration law issues that threaten to derail their dreams of working and living in the U.S. He casts a wary eye on efforts across the nation to enact more stringent laws to curtail illegal immigration, questioning whether states should be the battleground for such debates.

“As a nation, our immigration policy hasn’t made sense for years, which is undoubtedly why certain states have stepped in to enact their own reforms,” Maroko said. “The issues, however, are federal in nature and that is where any comprehensive reforms need to be made.”

Yet, Maroko doubts that such a politically charged matter will be taken up by Congress on the eve of a presidential election year when campaign rhetoric clouds clear thinking in Washington.

“In the meantime, we are likely to see more states step in to fill the void, which is only going to make things more difficult and confusing for those trying to navigate the immigration law system,” Maroko said. “We will continue to have to find creative solutions to some of the problems encountered until a comprehensive reform package is approved. We need to take steps to ensure that the best and the brightest have the opportunity to stay here.”

His legal ingenuity has been put to the test on many such occasions in efforts to give would-be U.S. citizens a fair shake with immigration authorities. He regularly works with high tech and auto industry companies who hire foreign nationals, going to great lengths to buy them time or long-term opportunities to complete their employment assignments.

“Many of them are advance degree holders who are working on specific projects for these companies,” Maroko said. “In many cases, they are running out of time before their work is finished and they need extensions. Some of these cases fall under the so-called ‘STEM’ program for recent university graduates that involves foreign nationals working in the science, technology, engineering, and math fields.”

Another favorite area of his practice involves foreign athletes who train in the U.S., including Olympic figure skaters and professional dancers.

“We have represented clients from the former Soviet Union who are training at the Arctic Edge arena (in Canton), as well as those who are training or teach ballroom dance at the Fred Astaire Dance Studios in the area,” Maroko said. “Some of them are Olympic competitors who are training under the guidance of some of the finest teachers in the world, and invariably they need immigration help as their stays here continue.”

Athletic talent runs in Maroko’s blood and has since his days as a football and tennis player at Pontiac Central High School, where he graduated in 1972. From there he enrolled at the University of Michigan, trying out for the Wolverine football team as a placekicker. The Wolverines, then coached by Bo Schembechler, were loaded with placekicking talent that season in the form of Mike Lantry and Bobby Wood, but Maroko reportedly did turn a few heads by making a 50-yard field goal in practice.

While thwarted in his bid to make the U-M football squad, Maroko had a “Plan B” in mind, recounting his tryout experience in a first person story submitted to Sports Illustrated and Sport magazines. Alas, neither publication picked up his account of being “embedded” with the Wolverine squad.

“In all honesty, I thought it was pretty good,” Maroko said of his football story.
While at U-M, he fulfilled his interest in collegiate sports by helping with the radio broadcasts of the Wolverine football and basketball games, eventually handling the play-by-play duties on WCBN, the student-run station in Ann Arbor.

“Broadcasting was interesting, but I elected to take a more challenging route by getting into the law,” Maroko said of his career choice.

Maroko enrolled in law school at Wayne State University, earning his juris doctor with honors in 1979. While working at a small firm in Troy, Maroko was first exposed to an immigration law case, helping the cousin to the Dutch ambassador to the U.S. A short time later, Maroko was asked to present an immigration law program at an Oakland County Bar Association event, helping him develop a reputation in the specialized legal field.

“My involvement in immigration cases was partially by design and partially by accident,” Maroko admitted. “Fortunately, like a number of things in my life, it has turned out well.”

His move to Jaffe nearly three years ago certainly was by design, particularly given the opportunity to develop an immigration law practice for the firm.

“It is a fascinating field that requires a great deal of creativity and perseverance to reach successful outcomes,” Maroko said. “It has become even more challenging in the years since 9/11, which obviously was a watershed event in terms of immigration law issues. Generally speaking, there has become a culture of ‘no’ on the government side since then, making it difficult to obtain approvals and extensions in many cases.”

The oldest of three children, Maroko has two sisters, both of whom graduated from the U-M. His sister, Doris, is an attorney in Chicago, while his sibling, Armonite, works for Hewlett Packard.

He and his wife, Beth, met while Maroko was in law school and celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary this year. A graduate of Oak Park High School, Beth is a pharmacist in Walled Lake.

The couple has three children, Jordan, Alex, and Abby. Their oldest, Jordan, is a singer/songwriter in Los Angeles. A graduate of Michigan State University, Jordan has one of the top playing songs (“Make It Mine”) on digital radio and will soon appear on a reality TV show, “RockStar Academy.”

And at the risk of sounding like the proverbial broken record, Maroko said that his son is “living a much more interesting life than I am.”

Their son, Alex, also an MSU grad, lives in San Diego where he has built a reputation as one of the country’s “Top 50 Young Entrepreneurs” for his work in the Internet marketing field. He played basketball at Eckerd College, an NCAA Division II school located in St. Petersburg, Fla., before transferring to MSU.

Their daughter, Abby, will be a junior at U-M this fall with plans to pursue a career in the medical profession. She was a star basketball player at West Bloomfield High School, trying out for the U-M squad as a walk-on.

“She is an excellent shooter and can give her brothers all they can handle on the basketball court,” said Maroko, who has served as a basketball coach for his kids on the AAU circuit. “I wish I could have been half as good as she was as a point guard.”
 

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