Lawyer guides clients through complex immigration process

by Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

 As an immigration attorney, Nathan Graham considers himself “blessed” to assist many world-class scientific researchers in obtaining green cards to remain in the United States where they can carry out critical scientific research in areas like cancer research, cutting edge surgical techniques, automotive hydrogen and electric fuel cells, and theoretical physics research.

But a particularly memorable case for Graham – an attorney at Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen and Loewy in Troy – didn’t involve anything so world-shaking.

An elderly and frail Filippino woman, who had obtained U.S. citizenship many years before, had filed an immigrant petition for her daughter. In her mid 90s and fast reaching the point of being unable to care for herself, the mother had no other family to care for her full-time. She also, because of the difficulty in obtaining visitor visas for many Filippinos, had not seen her daughter in many years. Although the immigrant visa should have been issued without much delay, the Consular office in Manila began putting up obstacles.

“It appeared as though they intended to simply delay issuance until the mother passed away, at which point they could then terminate the application altogether,” Graham says. “Through a number of avenues of inquiry and pressure on the Consulate, we ultimately were able to get the Consulate to move forward, and mother and daughter were reunited.

“I’ll never forget the expression of gratitude and relief that family had for the successful resolution of their case – and knowing I had a hand in helping an elderly mother to be able to spend the last months or years of her life with her daughter by her side is something I'll always be very proud of.”

Graham, who joined Fragomen in 2007, represents clients across many different industries, including information technology, automotive manufacturing, engineering consulting, and higher education. His practice areas include nonimmigrant visas, immigrant visas and permanent residence, family-based immigrant petitions, and citizenship.

“I’ve been lucky to have had many diverse kinds of cases over the years, and a number of rather interesting clients,” he says. “Knowing you’re furthering the aim of unifying and preserving families, of upholding familial bonds, is a great reward in itself.”

One particularly challenging case involved a Russian competitive figure skating coach, winner of several Olympic medals and a World Championships medalist in pairs skating. 

“His case for extraordinary ability classification was denied by USCIS because he was no longer skating competitively, and essentially they felt he had not shown himself to be extraordinary as a skating coach,” Graham says. “I argued there was an essential nexus, an indispensable link, between his abilities and skills as a skater, and his ability to successfully train and coach the next generations of world-class competitive skaters, and the administrative appeals body accepted this argument and approved the case.”

Graham also provides pro bono services on Annual Citizenship Day, an event sponsored by AILA, Michigan Chapter.

“It’s a humbling experience to be able to help people realize a dream they may have had all their lives, seeing the pride and joy that newly-minted U.S. citizens take in their American citizenship is a true privilege,” he says. “It’s especially touching in a time in our country when we are so often confronted with negative news reports and events that sometimes can make one feel less than ecstatic about the U.S. or our future.”

While the essential framework of immigration law has been in place since the enactment of the 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act, Graham notes that the interpretation of the regulations by the involved agencies (USCIS, the Department of Labor, and the Department of State) always is shifting with the economic and/or political winds. 

“I think public sentiment, for good or ill, has a major effect on the way federal immigration officers ‘see’ the law when they are looking at actual, individual cases,” he says.

Procedures have changed much as well with the advent of the PERM labor certification regulations and process in 2004 that greatly changed the way the first stage of green card applications are done, and decisions made by the administrative review bodies – similar to appeals courts – keep new developments always coming. “The sense of a lack of effective, impartial review of poor or unfavorable immigration decisions by the federal government can be frustrating,” Graham says.

“Arguing cases out in a court of law where one can see and face adversaries, interact with them and work with them towards a favorable or, at the very least, appropriate, resolution, tends to add a touch of fairness and reasonableness to law and practice that is sometimes lacking where one must present arguments convincingly using paper alone.”

A native of Huntington, W.V., Graham earned his undergrad degree in philosophy with a minor in political science from Ohio State University, where he was introduced to the legal world in a “Philosophy of Law” class.

“It really appealed to me,” he says. “The argumentation aspects of law, the analytical thinking skills it requires, were something I enjoyed.”

After earning his J.D. from Michigan State University College of Law, he fell into immigration law with the first job offer received about a week after passing the bar exam.

“At that time I also had to handle preparing and filing my wife's green card application, as she is from Japan, and handling my first family-based case, and one that was obviously very personal to me, was
an eye-opener to say the least! The strange vagaries of immigration law and procedure were new to me, but I found it very interesting.”

He and his wife make their home in Novi, with their 4-year-old and 11-month-old daughters. In his leisure time, Graham is a serious physical fitness and strength-training enthusiast, focusing on power lifting and bodybuilding. 

“I also really love musical theater, and have thought about auditioning for a show or two, but cannot find the time with family and career demands,” he says. “I like sports also, and maintain an abiding and life-long love for the Boston Celtics despite living in Detroit Pistons territory!”