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Case of predatory dentist reflects flaws in immigration policy

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Posted: Friday, July 7, 2006 10:00 pm

When I first learned about the sexual misconduct charges against Lodi dentist Ahmed Bakr, the Egyptian national convicted of groping his female patients, I wondered how he got into the U.S.

I'd ask Bakr directly. But upon being released from jail on bail, Bakr fled to Egypt to avoid paying the court-awarded $4.6 million in damages to his victims.

Western Dental, Bakr's former employer, could answer my question. But it isn't returning phone calls.

Bakr's prosecutors don't know. They hope to access Bakr's personnel files by the end of the month.

So, I'm left to take an educated guess about how Bakr came to America and how he managed to stay.

We know Bakr, now 32, has lived in the U.S. for 10 years. That means he was 22 when he arrived.

In all probability, Bakr entered on a student visa. Then once employed by Western Dental, Bakr likely applied for a change of status to an H-1B non-immigrant work visa. Or, as a 10-year resident, he may have received visa extensions until he could apply for a green card.

And since Bakr has family in California, including a brother who is a doctor, his immigration paper work may have been routinely processed.

As it turns out Bakr, a sexual predator, should have been subjected to an intense background check with the hope that information about him would have kept him out.

Supposedly, the Department of Homeland Security does a security check through the local consulate. But the paucity of rejected visa applications indicates such checks must be random.

When you add Bakr's case to Lodi's experience last summer with the R-1 visas granted to imams Shabbir Ahmed and Muhammad Adil Khan, many Lodians conclude that legal immigration, with its layers of loopholes, presents as much of a threat as illegal immigration.

The House of Representatives (H.R. 4437) and the U.S. Senate (S.2611) are hotly debating whether the nation should adopt a security-first approach to immigration, or grant amnesty to illegal aliens.

Meanwhile, the risk the Senate creates by adding more legal immigrants through increases in H-1B visas and establishing new categories of work and student visas is ignored.

Here are some of the provisions in the Senate bill that would add hundreds of thousands of opportunities for undesirables to enter and remain in the U.S. while also taking jobs from Americans.

• Increase the H-1B cap from 65,000 to 115,000. That cap would increase by 20 percent each year that the cap is met.

• Create a new H-2C visa for 350,000 guest workers. Each year the cap is reached, it increases 20 percent.

• Create a new F-4 visa, with no cap, that allows foreign students to work while attending school. Then, upon graduation, the students have one year to find work. Once employed, they are fast-tracked to a green card.

Since employers make sure the cap is reached, next year's 115,000 H-1B workers becomes 138,000 in 2008, 166,000 in 2009 and so on into infinity.

And as for the part of my analysis that non-immigrant worker visas translate into lost job opportunities for Americans, consider this: According to the U.S. Department of Labor's database, Western Dental Services, Inc. employs as many as 272 H-1B workers.

Before hiring an H-1B visa holder, employers must certify that no domestic workers are available or have been displaced.

But among the jobs Western Dental filled with H-1B visa holders in 2002 (the latest data available) are 194 administrative officers at salaries ranging from $32,000 annually to $42,700.

The chances are excellent that everyone reading this column knows someone who is qualified for and would love to have one of those jobs.

But that won't happen since a three-year H-1B visa can be extended for an additional three years before a "seventh year" unlimited extension kicks in until the visa holder receives his green card. Those Western Dental employees are here to stay.

The U.S. needs to tighten up its visa regulations in all categories to help protect the country and to give Americans a decent shot at the good jobs that are still out there, but given to overseas employees who will work for less.

Joe Guzzardi, an instructor at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. He can be reached by e-mail at joaquin@lodinet.com.

First published: Saturday, July 8, 2006

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