WELLS – A naturalized American himself, Peter Brimlow wrote in 1995 that our immigration system only enforces its laws against those who try to obey them. Nothing much has changed in 15 years, as exhibited by the case of Dean and Laura Franks who own a restaurant in Wells and lived in Arundel. To make a long story short, the Franks, who had previously visited Maine and loved the state, decided in 2000 to buy a restaurant in Wells, which they called Laura’s Kitchen.

Because of how complicated the process of obtaining a nonimmigrant E-2 treaty-investor visa is, they hired an attorney and obtained the proper visa in London, England, their home country. After successfully running their business for nine years, the Franks were told by USCIS’ California Service Center that their investment was “marginal” because profits were down due to the recession. USCIS gave the Franks 30 days to leave the country.

Before 1986, extensions of nonimmigrant work visas were handled by local immigration offices, in this case the one in Portland, so it was much easier for an adjudicator to actually visit the restaurant and see for himself whether it was still in operation or if it was a sham company that did not exist or a marginal operation.

Marginality is a very nebulous concept in immigration law and is often solely in the eye of the beholder. A site visit can open one’s eyes.

When I worked as a foreign service officer in 1977 in Montreal, we had a case of a young 21-year-old Canadian girl who couldn’t immigrate to the U.S. with her family solely because she was over 21. In those days, the U.S. government issued non-preference immigrant visas to investors.

I suggested she invest in an art business in Southern Maine. With the help of her dad, she opened Port Pewter in Kennebunkport and received her green card. The family was reunited. We do issue green cards to investors today, but investments must be $1 million or $500,000 in areas of high unemployment, beyond the reach of most people.

To prevent the kind of capricious treatment meted out to the Franks, we should either start issuing green cards again to small investors or allow longtime E-2 visa holders such as the Franks to apply for green cards after, say, five or 10 years in that status, assuming the business is still in operation and employing Americans.

I find it very ironic that recently an illegal alien from the Middle East who had been working with impunity in Portland for several years was finally picked up by immigration. How did they find him? Well, it turns out that he had a past association with Pakistan-born Faisal Shahzad, who is accused of trying to set off a bomb in Times Square. If it were not for this happenstance, this undocumented worker would still be in our midst.

The Portland Press Herald stories about this arrest quoted the worker’s employer for the story, but I did not see any mention that it is against the law to knowingly hire an illegal alien. It is hoped that justice will be done in this case, unlike in the Franks’ case.

There are approximately 11 million illegal aliens in the U.S. and we deported 387,790 in fiscal 2009, most of whom were criminal aliens convicted of other crimes prior to deportation. So unless you are very unlucky, your chances of deportation as an illegal alien in the United States are practically nil.

How can we change this? Well, in 2003, there was an immigration raid in Portland in which several people whose visa status was suspect were apprehended. A Jan. 30, 2004, Bill Nemitz column in The Portland Press Herald critical of this effort accused DHS agents of leaving “Portland’s hard-won reputation as an immigrant-friendly city in tatters.”

The writer was particularly chagrined that his daughter had been questioned by the agents at the bus station. Some complained of racial profiling, but the young girl at the bus station was Caucasian.

If one is trying to enforce immigration law, a bus station is a good place to ask questions. Rather than ordering the Franks to leave the country after nine years of sweat and toil running a restaurant, paying myriad taxes and employing Americans, immigration agents would better promote the national interest by deporting more illegals.

And the Franks? They contemplate moving permanently to Canada, where investors are treated justly.

They are in the United States as tourists for three months trying to sell their restaurant.

It is a loss for Maine and the United States.


– Special to the Telegram