The Catholic University of America

Mariela Melero-Chami reported that a doubling in the recent surge of applications to immigrate to the U.S. caught the US Citizenship and Immigration Service by surprise, and its 18,000 employees and 263 worldwide offices have been hard pressed to keep up with the demand.

Eighth Conference on Portuguese and American Law
Examines Immigration Policy

With tens of millions of people from underdeveloped regions of the world hoping to permanently resettle in developed nations, America and the dozens of nations that comprise the European Union share a common concern over immigration.

However, the U.S. and EU take quite different approaches to the issue. One key difference, according to immigration expert and Brooklyn Law School Professor Maryellen Fullerton, is that immigration policy is centralized in the EU, while in America it has slowly devolved from federal control, with some states forced to fashion their own ad hoc approaches to the problem of illegal immigration.

Fullerton was among the experts invited to the Eighth Conference on Portuguese and American Law, an unusual scholastic collaboration between the law faculties of Catholic University and the University of Lisbon.

This year's topic, "A Comparative Discussion of Immigration Law in the European Union and the United States," is the latest in a series of symposia that is hosted in turn by each law school, and which examines a wide range of legal issues at the intersection of modern life.

The keynote address, which laid out the big-picture approach to immigration from the American perspective, was offered by Mariela Melero-Chami, deputy chief of the office of communications for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, under the Department of Homeland Security.

USCIS handles the deluge of requests from around the world for asylum, permanent residence cards, applications to sponsor family members for entry to the U.S., worker petitions and many other immigration-related matters.

"It's a delicate balance between compassion and precaution," said Melero-Chami, who noted that the high interest in immigration to the U.S. prompts her agency to conduct 135,000 background security checks every day.

Other panels throughout the day presented both the American and EU approaches to such topics as refugee and asylum issues, the search for a comprehensive immigration policy, new definitions of citizenship, and employment eligibility and worker mobility issues.

Speakers included law faculty members from the University of Lisbon, think tank analysts, a speaker from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and T. Alexander Aleinikoff, dean of the Georgetown University Law Center, among others.

The Conference on Portuguese and American Law began in 2000 and was founded by CUA law Professor Marshall Breger, who received much organizational assistance this year from Professor Cara Drinan and law student Stephanie Adams (2D). The conference concluded with a half-day session on March 24.