Pennsylvania law firm under scrutiny regarding the ethics of immigration law tactics

Several readers have emailed me about this story:

PITTSBURGH — A U.S. senator wants an investigation into the ethics of a law firm whose YouTube video highlights how to circumvent the law to obtain visas for foreign employees.

Attorneys say it’s not illegal — but Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has asked Labor Secretary Elaine Chao to examine the firm’s tactics.

The video shows attorneys for Cohen & Grigsby, one of the largest law firms in Pittsburgh, explaining at a conference on immigration how to obey laws that require Americans be given top priority for jobs while still ensuring foreigners are hired.

“The goal here of course is to meet the requirements, number one, but also do so as inexpensively as possible, keeping in mind our goal. And our goal is clearly not to find a qualified and interested U.S. worker,” Lawrence Lebowitz, the firm’s vice president of marketing, told the audience in May.


Initially, Cohen & Grigsby placed footage from the conference on YouTube. Then the Programmers Guild, a group that opposes current immigration laws, edited it, added background music and uploaded its version to the video-sharing site.

“The attorneys aren’t doing anything illegal,” said Kim Berry, president of the Programmers Guild. “There is something wrong with the law.”

Cohen & Grigsby said in a statement that it stood by the substance of the talk, but regretted “the choice of words that was used during a small segment of the seminar.” The firm added that its statements had been “commandeered and misused.”

The video clip appears to confirm the suspicions of many who accuse companies of placing want-ads in newspapers to show the Department of Labor it is recruiting Americans, knowing all along that they won’t attract qualified applicants.

Palma Yanni, a Washington, D.C.-based immigration lawyer, said the department requires companies to make a good-faith effort to hire an American before applying for a work visa for a foreigner.

“By encouraging employers not to make a good-faith effort, they are violating the rules, period,” Yanni said of Cohen & Grigsby’s tactics.

Here’s the video:

I have several lawyer friends who are decent, competent, and honest lawyers, but every once in a while a story comes along that reminds me of just why lawyers in general have such nasty reputations. This is one of those types of stories.

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