Related Practices

Law360 Features Lynda Zengerle in Immigration Q&A

May 21, 2015

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Lynda S. Zengerle is a partner in Steptoe & Johnson LLP's Washington, DC, office, where she heads the firm's immigration practice in its international department. Zengerle has more than three decades of experience representing corporations and individuals in immigration matters. Her experience includes establishing, developing and managing full-service practices.

Lynda assists individual clients in obtaining immigrant and nonimmigrant visas in all categories and represents non-US citizens in adjudications before immigration judges. She advises international organizations, nonprofits and businesses on the management of individual transfers into and out of the US Zengerle also helps clients comply with immigration statutes and regulations.

Q: What is the most challenging case you have worked on and what made it challenging?

A: I have had a number of challenging cases over the years and it is difficult to describe only one. My first immigration cases followed the overthrow of the Shah of Iran in 1979. While the ambassador from Iran to the US immediately fled to Switzerland, the five remaining diplomats were going to be sent home since we no longer had diplomatic relations with Iran and they were targeted for immediate execution upon their arrival. My task was to obtain US permanent residency for them, which I did, but the difficulty of working with diplomats who had lost their status in the US and who were facing certain death should they be sent home made these cases extremely challenging.

My extensive work handling international adoptions has also been challenging mostly because the US Department of State tends to find fraud everywhere, whether it exists or not. Proving a negative, such as a child not being lured away from his biological mother by an offer of money from an agent involved in trafficking, is extremely difficult to do, particularly when the biological mother cannot be identified, a common problem in foreign adoptions.

Most recently, I represented an individual who is from one of our very valuable allies to the US Proving this client qualified for asylum required our ally be found to be politically persecuting one of its citizens. This challenge to the Obama administration was particularly daunting since granting the individual’s request for political asylum was tantamount to denouncing an important ally of the US

Q: What aspects of your practice area are in need of reform and why?

A: There are so many aspects of immigration law in need of reform that it is hard to identify only one or two. Given the current difficulties with the EB-5 applications (e.g., charges of fraud and extremely lengthy processing times), we need a new visa category to allow entrepreneurs and investors in startups in the US to have authorization to live and work here while using their expertise and talents for the benefit of the American economy. And while the shortage of H-1B visas is an ongoing problem, creating a new visa specifically for entrepreneurs would alleviate some of the pent-up demand for work authorization here.

Q: What is an important issue relevant to your practice area and why?

A: There are a number of important issues relevant to the immigration practice at Steptoe & Johnson. A recent development is the undertaking by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services to redefine the qualifications for L-1B status. The changes that the government seeks are not sufficiently clear and seem to be evolving on a weekly basis.

The importance of the L-1B visa to international companies cannot be overstated and there must be clear and useful criteria provided to immigration practitioners so they can appropriately represent their clients seeking this status. Another recent change that has been relevant to our practice is the requirement for an employer to sign an attestation regarding whether or not a deemed export license is required to release technology or technical data to certain nonimmigrant employees. Because Steptoe & Johnson has an excellent Office of Foreign Assets Control practice, I have been able to provide clients with accurate guidance, something I probably would not have been able to do otherwise.

Q: Outside your firm, name an attorney in your field who has impressed you and explain why.

A: The best way I can answer this question is to state that, in 1979, the immigration bar was small. As an attorney just beginning my practice, I needed guidance and an opportunity to brainstorm regularly. Members of the American Immigration Lawyers Association in the Washington, DC, area were consistently helpful and generous with their time. Whenever I asked a question, I received a useful response as well as continuous encouragement.

Q: What is a mistake you made early in your career and what did you learn from it?

A: Early in my career, the employee was the only person who would be disciplined for violating immigration law, specifically working without legal authorization. At first, I did not counsel my clients, who were employers of these individuals to pay Social Security and all other relevant taxes. Nor did I advise the employees to pay taxes on their own behalf, even if they could not obtain a valid Social Security number.

It did not take me long to realize that this was a mistake for both the employer and employee even before the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. I have made that information a standard part of advice that we give to our clients for the past 30 years.

The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm, its clients, or Portfolio Media Inc., or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.