Keil Hackley: A Professor at Heart

By Janet Marotta – Article from

November 2005 – You will often find Keil Hackley lecturing to the student body and faculty members of a university’s law school, or invited as a guest speaker for a professional group, or conducting seminars for local businesses on today’s immigration issues. A “professor at heart”, Keil Hackley is Senior Partner at the law firm of Hackley & Robertson. The firm practices exclusively in the area of immigration law with special emphasis on corporate immigration visas.

“My first job out of law school was one of the largest national immigration firms in Washington DC,” says Hackley. “Twenty years ago when I graduated law school, I was a single parent surviving. The law firm of Barst and Mukamal called me for an interview and offered me a job on the spot. Little did I know how much I was going to love it.”

Hackley moved up at a relatively young age, and became a managing partner with the Washington DC law firm of Noto, Oswald, Hoffheimer, Hackley, Eisman, & Miller – a firm that specialized in employment-based visas. She landed a government mandatory detention case that got local publicity. “I was a fairly new lawyer going through the ranks at an interesting pace when I filed a lawsuit against the government,” recalls Hackley. “The case went through appeal and eventually, the government released my client.”

The case grabbed the attention of District Director of Washington DC’s Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and began a business relationship with the INS Director that later caused Hackley to relocate to South Florida. She became Deputy District Counsel for the Florida INS, directing their in-house law firm of 65 trial attorneys.

“As district office prosecutor for the government, I had switched sides,” recalls Hackley. “Very few lawyers come of out private practice into government, but I figured I had a lot to learn from the inside and it didn’t get any better than that.”

Hackley believes it was the most incredible experience of her life for ten years. “It was stressful enough to supervise litigation – there are some really good lawyers working for the INS. What was more stressful was giving advice to the District Director and his executive staff on whether or not to stop a plan on the runway with a deportee in it; or whether or not a vessel should be towed in from international waters to take people off the vessel.” For Hackley, understanding the impact of diplomatic consequences and wanting to make the right decision was key.

She landed another high-profile case when she granted asylum to Albita Rodriguez, a famous Cuban recording artist and one of Castro’s protégés. All band members eventually followed suit and were granted asylum. “Most economic persecution claims don’t rise to the level the statute requires,” comments Hackley. “If you repatriate people that have left Cuba without exit permission, the punishment is persecution and torture.”

Widely recognized by peers in her community, Hackly is now often consulted to debate the wet foot/dry foot immigration policy. It is not uncommon to find her on live television commenting on legal immigration matters.

Twenty years later, Hackley is back in private practice and now with keen insight into the inner workings of the government. “My heart has always been in private practice,” says Hackley. “I like the one-on-one relationship with clients. I feel good about my accomplishments, but in government, there’s always the chain of command and the politics. Here, I call it as I see it, as long as its ethical and legal, I’ll fight a fight for my client and I love doing it.”

Now the firm’s focus is on commercial or business immigration and in her office, Hackley has tokens of appreciation from clients she has managed from countries such as, China, Argentina, the Philippines, Turkey, Hungary, Colombia, and Italy.

“I come to work now and the thrill is unbelievable,” says Hackley. “People come to the firm because of our experience. We have the insight from the inside and we have built goodwill inside the government. And I get to practice with my daughter who is now a partner here.”

The firm has two other partners. Hackley’s daughter, Summer graduated from Nova Southeastern University and handles the resolution of some of the firm’s more sophisticated and complex legal matters.

Immigration has changed considerably since Hackley served the government – there are harder detention laws, more “no-bond” situations; and while immigration cases are being processed more quickly, tighter security screening outside the US is prolonging visas.

“No one wants to make a mistake,” comments Hackley. “Visas are taking longer because the Counsel office abroad does not want to take any chances, particularly if you practice in the field of technology, medicine, engineering, or microbiology. It’s hurting our teaching institutions that rely on international talent. Deterring foreign nationals to study or work is causing the US to lose its competitive edge.”

Another immigration issue is the need for essential workers, such as construction workers still needed to repair hurricane damage from one year ago. “Where are we getting the construction workers?” questions Hackley. “High school students are not going into the trade. We’ve exhausted the pool in the US. There’s a huge pool of foreign nationals ready to come but no visa category lets them come in legally.” Hackley counters the concern that more foreign nationals may take jobs away from US citizens by stating that it creates supervisory jobs for foremen and engineers that may not otherwise be possible.

What is fun about the practice? The firm has represented International Grammy award winners; Latin entertainers like Victor Malorino, a Colombian heart-throb; and sports stars like Javier Villegas from Chile, better known as “Astro Boy” for how he flies through the air in motor cross racing.

“You get to delve into careers for people that have really had extraordinary accomplishments in their field,” says Hackley. “But above all, you get to be a true counselor. You listen to people’s problems and help work them through it. People put so much confidence in us and we don’t want to let them down.”

Active in a large number of community groups, Keil Hackley is a founding Board Member of the Weston Business Chamber of Commerce and a Past Board Member of the Rotary Club of Weston. Keil graduated from the University of Maryland (BA magna cum laude) and the University of Baltimore School of Law (JD). Hackley & Robertson, PA is located at 2200 N. Commerce Parkway, Suite 206, Weston. For more information, call (954) 349-4994.