After a twenty-year legal battle last October, Charlie Pierre became a U.S. resident last October — thanks to the pro bono efforts of Miami immigration attorney Tammy Fox-Isicoff. “She was a life-saver for me,” said Pierre, who emigrated from Haiti decades ago and was given Temporary Protected Status (TPS) by U.S. immigration authorities. “Getting my ‘green card’ meant so much to me and my family,” added Pierre who lives in Fort Pierce. “It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor – she won’t give up on you.”
For more than 30 years, Fox-Isicoff has been fighting to help corporate executives, professionals and other foreign nationals like Pierre obtain legal permission to enter and stay in the United States. It’s a task made more difficult these days because of the Trump administration’s focus on reducing the number of legal entrants, eliminating TPS protections for some residents and deporting others who entered the U.S. illegally as children or adults.
“I wish Donald Trump could meet some of my clients,” said Fox-Isicoff, a partner at Rifkin & Fox-Isicoff in Miami. “These are good people who have families and jobs here, paying their taxes and making contributions to their communities. For some of them, deportation could be a death penalty.”
A Varied Immigration Practice
Board-certified in immigration and nationality law, Fox-Isicoff’s practice largely focuses on business and investor-related visas, including intra-company transfers for foreign executives who need permission to work here on a temporary basis.
“It’s much better to talk with an immigration lawyer before taking steps to bring in a foreign executive or professional,” she said. “Planning ahead can make the process go more smoothly and avoid potential problems.”
Fox-Isicoff also helps foreign investors and business owners planning to start new ventures in our country through the EB-5 direct and regional center visa program. Fox-Isicoff is a national expert on direct EB-5 investments. “I believe there is great value in facilitating direct foreign investments, and speak on this topic all over the world,” she said.
Much of immigration law involves informing and educating immigration adjudication officers about foreign individuals who can make contributions to the nation, Fox-Isicoff said. “We explain why an international executive who is important to the company needs to be transferred to the U.S. or why a person seeking a labor certification has skills that can’t easily be replicated here.”
On a typical day, Fox-Isicoff might have appointments with 10 clients, each with his or her own story to tell. “I have helped a diamond broker from Europe, an asylum seeker from the Ukraine, military experts, top athletes and renowned medical professionals,” she said. “I also have an opportunity to help human beings fleeing desperate political and economic circumstances and whistle-blowers who have exposed government corruption in their homeland.”
She also enjoys helping her clients make the move to the United States. “Imagine moving to a different country where you don’t know anyone,” she said. “You would need to find a home, get your children into schools, and find a family doctor. Making those kinds of referrals is one of the roles I play as part of my practice.”
In her practice, Fox-Isicoff works closely with partner Larry Rifkin, and their associates and staff members. “Our team has been together for many years, and I rely on them for support,” she said. “We would be nothing without our wonderful staff.”
But Fox-Isicoff says she still writes every application letter and labor certification request herself. “I like to meet our clients, learn what they do, and then prepare their information for the authorities,” she said. “That’s what makes my job interesting.”
Fox-Isicoff also enjoys the collegiality of practicing immigration law in South Florida. “The other lawyers in my field are my friends,” she said. “After all, we have a common goal – helping our clients overcome the barriers to immigration. I put my briefs online to educate other attorneys, and send out email blasts from time to time. We realize that one bad decision in the courts can affect all of our clients.”
For example, Fox-Isicoff represented Cuban-born Roberto Garces before the 11th U.S. Court of Appeals on a pro bono basis. Garces had come to Miami in 1980 and was caught up in a drug bust on Miami Beach three years later. “Although he was never convicted of drug trafficking or any other crime, immigration authorities tried to deport him in 2006,” she said. “At that point, he was the guardian of his five grandchildren, who would have been left without support. I couldn’t let that removal order stand, and ultimately the appellate court agreed to let him stay.”
A Descendant of Immigrants
Fox-Isicoff is proud of being the descendant of immigrants who came from eastern Europe in the early 1900s. She grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, where her father, Eugene Fox, was an attorney and her mother Tamara was a homemaker. “I was in an accelerated high school program and my parents had a place in Miami, so it made sense to go to college here.”
After gaining a bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University of Miami, Fox-Isicoff continued with law school in the early 1980s. Even before earning her juris doctor, she was introduced to immigration law through a summer internship with Federal District Court Judge Eugene Spellman. “I spent time at the Krome Immigration Detention Center for refugees, and that helped shape my career path,” she said.
After graduating in 1983 at the age of 25, Fox-Isicoff joined the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service as a trial attorney, and soon became a special assistant U.S. attorney.
Meanwhile, she married another attorney and started a family. Today, her husband Eric Isicoff is a commercial litigator and a founding partner of Isicoff Ragatz.Daughter Jamie is a divorce attorney with Leinoff & Lemos, P.A. , son Jordan recently joined Hall, Lamb, Hall & Leto, P.A., and daughter Jennifer is a social media strategist in New York City.
An Advocate for Change
Since entering private practice in 1985, Fox-Isicoff has been active in The Florida Bar, the American Immigration Lawyers’ Association (AILAA), and Catholic Charities Legal Services. She has lectured on immigration law and appeared as a consultant on NBC, CNN, ABC, CBS, CNBC, FOX and MSNBC. She has received three AILA Presidential Awards for advocacy on behalf of immigrants.
Today, she is a dedicated advocate for changing the nation’s immigration policies and practices. “Treating all illegal immigrants in the same way does nothing to improve the nation’s security,” she said.
A foreign child who came to the U.S. with his family and has been protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Dreamer) program or a working mom with three children is very different from a terrorist trying to sneak into the country, she said. “There are many immigration judges who understand the vital importance of looking at each individual’s circumstances, but their hands are tied by the draconian federal policies. That’s something we must change.”
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