By Mia Mancini
Mar. 7, 2017
Leon Rodriguez, the former director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services at the Department of Homeland Security, joined Seyfarth Shaw LLP as a partner in the firm’s Labor & Employment Department in Washington, D.C.
Rodriguez brings new depth to Seyfarth’s Business Immigration Group, according to a release from the law firm.
Rodriguez served as the director of the USCIS from 2014-17, responsible for administering all U.S. immigration matters, including the processing of asylum and refugee applications, immigration benefits and naturalization and visa petitions. He oversaw a workforce of 19,000 government employees in 223 offices around the world.
Before joining the USCIS, he served as the director of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services from 2011 to 2014, responsible for the enforcement of federal civil rights laws and HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act privacy rule that governs health information privacy rights.
Rodriguez held numerous federal prosecution roles. He previously served as chief of staff and deputy assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division; first assistant U.S. attorney and chief of white collar crimes section in U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania; and trial attorney for the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice.
“As the son and grandson of refugee entrepreneurs from Cuba, I believe fundamentally that one of our country’s core strengths is immigration. Immigrants bring a willingness to work hard and a wealth of dreams,” said Rodriguez in an interview with Workforce. Serving as director of the USCIS, he understood that every legal decision affected some family’s future in a profound way. One core operational challenge he said he faced was ensuring timely and fair adjudications to the maximum extent possible.
“Leading USCIS when aspects of the immigration system were roiled with controversy gave me a unique insight into the political dynamics that affect both immigration policy and adjudicative operations,” said Rodriguez, who joined Seyfarth in February.
He knows the operational issues that can hinder the processing of visas. The H-1B visa category sits on one of the most politically volatile and complex landscapes. It is affected by a broader set of geographic and intellectual issues than many other visa categories.
Rodriguez said the H-1B program needs an overhaul. It is built on the idea that it risks greatly displacing U.S. workers, but Rodriguez says he hasn’t seen evidence of that.
“I think we need a fundamental rethinking of the cap levels, although I am not sure that’s where anybody’s headed politically right now,” Rodriguez said.
The most immediate immigration challenge his clients are facing is the uncertainty affecting various aspects of business immigration. This isn’t limited to visa availability, but the fundamental issues of ability to travel and the future practices of the USCIS and other agencies that regulate business immigration.
“Over the longer term, however, the greater challenge is that we don’t have an immigration system that readily provides our business community full access to the talent that will optimize its success,” said Rodriguez. Numerous statements made by the new presidential administration makes Rodriguez anticipate possible greater worksite enforcement, though it’s unclear any plan has been created yet.
In a time of unprecedented uncertainty surrounding immigration from the federal government, Rodriguez tells clients to be prepared for multiple scenarios.
Rodriguez is hesitant to predict the future of immigration reform after watching President Donald Trump’s Feb. 28 address to Congress. He has learned it’s important to watch what the government does more than what it says.
“By that measure, what we have seen so far is worrisome,” Rodriguez said. “I think we are still in for a lot of uncertainty before a reform deal actually takes shape.”
Mia Mancini is a Workforce editorial intern. Comment below or email email@example.com.
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