Prominent California Immigration Lawyer Loses License

Philip D Abramowitz, one of the most prominent immigration lawyers in the United States, has been barred permanently from practicing law by the California Bar Association along with two partners following felony convictions stemming from a visa fraud scheme dealing with thousands of Filipino immigrants, according to the legal regulatory body.

Abramowitz gained fame in the Philippines for helping more than 100 Filipino veterans who fought for the United States in World War II gain American citizenship. He was described as a hero to Filipino-American war veterans. His firm was headquartered in the Los Angeles suburb of Encino, with branches in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and Las Vegas

The United States is by far the biggest destination for Filipino immigrants and overseas workers. The number of migrants tripled between 1980 and 2006, according to the Manila based Migration Information Source, from 501,440 to 1.6 million, making them the second largest immigrant group in the US after Mexicans. More than half of the Filipino immigrants have settled in California.

The three were indicted in March of 2007 by a federal grand jury in Los Angeles for filing fraudulent employment visa applications on behalf of foreign nationals, including some of the law firm's own workers. The 33-count indictment accused Daniel E. Korenberg, a partner in the law firm formerly known as Korenberg, Abramowitz & Feldun, and Steven James Rodriguez, one of the firm's senior associates, of committing visa fraud, making false statements and conspiring to commit visa fraud. The indictment stemmed from an investigation involving U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the U.S. Department of Labor - Office of Inspector General, and the California Employment Development Department.

Under US immigration law, employment-based visas normally are issued when a business needs a person to fill a specific job and is unable to find a qualified employee in the American labor pool. The business can file a petition to allow a particular person, supposedly qualified to fill the position, to enter the United States to work for the business.

The three, who ran one of the largest immigration law firms on the West Coast, were charged with manipulating the visa process and filing thousands of phony applications for foreign nationals, particularly Filipinos. Allegedly the crime also entailed moral turpitude, according to the Bar Association’s website, which made them subject to summary disbarment.

Abramowitz originally was charged along with a paralegal with participating in the scheme and pleaded guilty to two counts of visa fraud and one count of conspiracy. The indictment charged that Korenberg and others created documents that made false claims about the aliens' work experience and offers of employment. Two Los Angeles-area employment agencies also were targeted in the probe, which resulted in the conviction of four individuals associated with the agencies.

The scheme lasted from 2000 through February 2003. The investigation revealed that the employment agencies identified employers, both real and fictitious, to attest that the aliens seeking the work visas were being recruited for highly skilled jobs that in most instances did not exist.

Abramowitz was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison and three months of home detention and was ordered to pay $100,000 in fines, according to the Bar Association. Korenberg pleaded guilty to two counts of visa fraud and one count of conspiracy and was sentenced to two years in federal prison, three years of probation, six months of home detention and was ordered to pay $750,000 in fines. Rodriguez was sentenced to three years of probation, six months of home detention and 200 hours of community service after he pleaded guilty to one count of making false statements to the INS.

"Disturbingly," said Jennifer Silliman, deputy special agent in charge of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigations office in Los Angeles, "the defendants in this case used their expertise in immigration law not for the greater good but to undermine the system and enrich themselves."