CONCERT STAR GETS BACK U.S. VISA
Singer Regine Velasquez poses with “Attorney to the Stars” Michael Grufinkel. Regine is all smiles at Atty. GurfinkelÕs excellent work, which earned for her a B-1 US visa after the Embassy issued a lifetime ban on her. This means she could start planning for concert tours in America again.
JULY 6, 2000 is a day singer Regine Velasquez will never forget. That day, upon stepping out of the US Embassy in Manila, she realized how a simple mistake could turn her life upside down.
It took Regine, dubbed as “Asia’s Songbird,” many years to reach the pinnacle of her career. From small singing stints in her hometown in Bulacan, she has become one of the Philippines’ most sought-after divas. She had fame, she had fortune, and everybody loved her.
But her career and much-cared-for reputation threatened to disappear in the blink of an eye. Months of planning and preparations for a five-city US tour melted with the Embassy’s decision not only to deny her an entertainer visa, but to revoke her US visa and permanently ban her for attempting to “smuggle” an alien into America.
Regine was caught unaware, but there was nothing she could do. The stamp barred her from ever setting foot in US soil as long as she lives.
In an instant Regine went from a superstar to an individual accused of “smuggling” Filipinos for a fee. Nasty rumors spread like wildfire about her and her family, which caused Regine to slip into depression.
Patty Mayoralgo, Regine’s friend and personal manager, recounts how the singer holed up in her room for weeks after the incident.
“She did not want to go out, she wouldn’t speak to anyone. She just stayed there in her room feeling depressed. Her family was so concerned,” Patty said.
RegineÕs tragedy was caused by an unintentional fib during her interview at the Embassy.
She explains: “For that tour, the concert producers told us that they were including a “wardrobe assistant,” in the entourage. Thinking nothing of it, I let it pass. I’m just like that, I am more concerned with my music and promoting sales and tickets. But when I was asked at the Embassy how long I knew the person, and I really didnÕt know her at all, I just said Ôthree yearsÕ out of nervousness and for lack of anything better to say”.
But that one, unplanned lie had rippling consequences. As it turned out, the wardrobe assistant admitted to the Embassy during her interview, that once she arrived in America, she intended to remain in the US and would be proceeding to California to work as personal secretary for one of the producers.
Because this person had not previously worked with Regine as a wardrobe assistant like she told the Embassy, Regine was denied her visa under Section 212(a)(6)(E) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, for knowingly assisting, aiding and abetting “any other alien to enter or to try to enter the United States in violation of law.”
“It was my mistake and I admit it. I shouldn’t have lied just because I did not know how to respond to the question. I really could not believe that this had happened. I was worried about my producers in the US who lost money out of this and I was concerned about what people were saying about me” Regine said.
But while the 31-year-old singer was wallowing in sadness, numerous people offered advice, help and suggestions. Many suggested that Regine challenge the ConsulÕs decision or sue the Embassy, which would have been a futile exercise since US laws do not allow any challenge to the decisions handed down by Consuls.
Others promised to sneak through the backdoor and get Regine her visa through their “connections”.
“Nothing worked. Politicians, people with connections didn’t work. I realized that Filipinos believe in this system so much, but it doesnÕt cut in the real world, especially at the US Embassy where they play by the book and follow rules and regulations. After that, I thought my case was impossible, I mean it was a lifetime ban. After two months, all efforts from well-meaning friends and acquaintances failed. I then turned to Atty. Michael Gurfinkel, whom Boss Vic del Rosario said was the best attorney around,” explained Regine.
The immigration lawyer, who was in Europe at that time, knew Regine’s case was impossible but welcomed the challenge. He cautioned her though against having too many people mixing in her case.
“Too many cooks spoil the broth,” Gurfinkel said, noting he wanted to implement his own strategies and didnÕt want other people coming in with conflicting advice or suggestions.
“He did not promise me anything. He was very sincere and told me he would work as hard as he could for my case, but it would take time. But then, that was good enough for me after hearing about his impressive track record in impossible cases like mine,” added Regine.
“I told her there is no reversing the Embassy’s ban for alien smuggling. Consults decisions are first and final. Once stamped there, itÕs there forever. But there was a possibility of getting a waiver on that ban under Section 212(d)(3) of the Immigration and Nationality Act of the USA,” Gurfinkel explained.
A few short months after Gurfinkel accepted the case, Regine walked out of the US Embassy with a B-1 visa. This means she could now travel to the US on official business. She could talk to producers and plan concerts, which she admitted missing very much during her year-long hiatus.
Regine has no ill-will against the Embassy. It was clear to Regine that she committed a mistake and that in revoking her visa, the Embassy was only doing its job.
All things said and done, Regine said she emerged from this tragedy a better and more matured person. She also asked her fellow artists (and kababayans) to learn from her mistakes and be wary of people who might want to try to take advantage of them.
Atty. Gurfinkel on the other hand, reminded everyone that telling a lie during visa interviews, no matter how small, is of no help. He stressed that RegineÕs case is an example of how serious the penalties for fraud are and that the US Embassy really means business in implementing its immigration laws.
The lawyer, who has helped numerous celebrities get entertainer visas, also said he is pleased to have been able to help Regine. Through the years, Gurfinkel has reunited families and made “American dreams” come true. This time, he has helped Regine revive her career in the US.
“I canÕt thank him enough for what heÕs done for me and my family. He truly is a miracle worker,” Regine said.
After traveling the world, Regine confesses she is excited about her upcoming trip to the US.
“I guess the old saying is true that you fail to appreciate the value of things until it’s taken away from you. In my case, my US visa,” the singer adds.
Regine loves autumn in New York, the light breeze and the dazzling display of nature’s colors makes her forget the hustle and bustle of life. Regine says she never liked stifling air or cramped spacesÑjust like a songbird who longs to spread her wings and fly without territorial boundaries.
A Filipino’s First Father’s Day in 20 Years
FATHER’S DAY FOR THE FIRST TIME.
Sofronio and Suzette Aquino are reunited after 11 years of separation. She arrived in the US on her birthday last May 7, 2002, thanks to the hard work and dedication of Atty. Gurfinkel. Sofronio will celebrate his first Father’s Day ever with Suzette in San Jose, California, where the Aquinos eside.
On one special day in the year, fathers are recognized. On that day, members of a family usually acknowledge the father’s hard work and sacrifices. It does not really call for a celebration, and normally the children’s hugs and kisses are enough to take away a father’s loneliness and fatigue.
Fifty one year-old father, Sofronio Aquino, a Filipino resident of San Jose, California, never had this pleasure. Sofronio was a seaman, and like all seamen, he was away from his family most of the time. For so many years, he was thousands of miles away from his daughter, Suzette. He knew that he was giving Suzette the best life possible, but he had missed so many important family occasions, including Father’s Day.
Add to that, Sofronio was concerned that Suzette was growing up without his guidance. His worries were aggravated when tragedy struck his family in 1990. Sofronio’s wife succumbed to a heart attack, and although devastated by her death, he could not leave his work to be with Suzette, who was then only 9 years old, as he had to keep working to support her.
Sofronio continued to work as a seaman, then left for the US in 1992. He decided that he could give Suzette a more stable future if he could work in the US and eventually take her under his care. In America, Sofronio worked two jobs. Everyday, he’d wake up at 5 a.m. and end his workday at 7 p.m. It was a hard, backbreaking routine. His monthly remittance enabled Suzette to enjoy a comfortable life, and good education. Through Sofronio’s sacrifice, Suzette graduated with a legal management degree from San Sebastian College.
Sofronio also proved that he was a caring and loving father. Despite the high cost of overseas calls, he never failed to call Suzette every Saturday, and their conversations normally lasted for hours. In this brief period, father and daughter would exchange stories and anecdotes, bridging the distance and time that kept them apart. Sofronio still puts the phone down with a heavy heart. If only she were in America with him, then both their lives would be complete.
Not once had he been able to experience the joy of feeling special on Fatherss Day. And to be with his daughter again, he needed to legalize his immigration status in the U.S. However, in his haste to do this, he committed a grave error. He went to a supposed lawyer who told him of a faster way to get “work authorization”.
He got this authorization, but the document turned out to be a fake as was the lawyer he retained. Not only did it deprive him of his hard earned money, the worst part of it all is that he was no closer to being with Suzette than when he first arrived in America.
In this seemingly hopeless situation, a relative from Los Angeles advised Sofronio years later to consult with the popular immigration lawyer Michael J. Gurfinkel, whom the relative said was the best immigration lawyer around, based on his “track record of success of doing what other attorneys said were hopeless cases”.
After consulting with the “Attorney of Last Hope”, Atty. Gurfinkel told Sofronio that instead of relying on his work authorization, he should instead apply for a green card through his employerss sponsorship (labor certification). This sponsorship could result in a greencard for not only Sofronio, but also for Suzette, provided she was still under 21 years of age.
To Sofronio’s joy, his employer agreed to sponsor him, with Atty. Gurfinkel handling all the paperwork. Sofronio was able to get his green card on March 15, 2002, But Suzette was turning 21 years old in less than 2 months. So, Atty. Gurfinkel needed to perform another of his miracles”, as normal visa processing ordinarily takes 8 months or more, and Suzette the daughter would have aged out by then.
Atty. Gurfinkel contacted the US Embassy in Manila, and was able to have Suzette immediately scheduled for an interview. She was given her US Visa on May 6, 2002, the eve of her 21st birthday. However, all flights to America were fully-booked, making it impossible for Suzette to come to the US before her 21st birthday. Ordinarily, if a child fails to arrive in the U.S. before their 21st birthday, everything is lost.
Atty. Gurfinkel did not give up. He was able to deliver for Suzette one more miracle. Under the newly enacted PATRIOT ACT, Suzette was given a 45-day “extension” to get to the US. She arrived in America, and into the open arms of her loving father on her birthday, May 7, 2002.
Atty. Michael J. Gurfinkel brought father and daughter together, after 11 years of not seeing each other, and never having spent a single Father’s Day together.
“I cried when I saw my father for the first time after 11 years. He looked tired and he was very thin. It seems that all these years he had done nothing but work to put me through college. Now that I’m here I will take good care of him. I will also tell him that he doesn’t have to carry the burden of providing for us alone, because I am here to help him”, Suzette said. Sofronio’s regret was he was delayed in consulting Atty. Gurfinkel. Had he known about the famous attorney, he would have gone to him sooner.
For now, father and daughter Suzette are getting reacquainted. June 16 will be their first father’s day celebration in 21 years. It will undoubtedly be an unforgettable experience for Sofronio and Suzette, thanks to Atty. Michael J. Gurfinkel.