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Face-to-Face Meetings Make a Difference with the Media

Outside the state-of-the-art Bloomberg View offices, April 28, 2014

Outside the state-of-the-art Bloomberg View offices, April 28, 2014

Talking on the phone is great.  E-mail can be incredibly convenient. But nothing beats a face-to-face meeting.

That’s the motto Leslie Holman and I were living by as we went from one meeting to another at a pretty rapid fire pace this past Monday and Tuesday during the press tour that AILA National Communications staff organized.

What difference does meeting face-to-face make?

The best way to get to know someone is to spend time with them. When you meet someone, get a chance to sit down and dig into the issues, it turns you from a voice on the phone or letters in an email to a real live person. You see the smiles, you see the gestures that emphasize a particular point, you can “read” them and get a gut feeling about their honesty, their attitude, and what they know.

Reporters live and die by accuracy. Their ability to relay the story with the facts in line is what makes or breaks their reputation. Their jobs depend on knowing who to approach for the answer to a question and getting that information right.

Leslie and I tag-teamed a lot of the reporters, sharing information and the on-the-ground knowledge that only AILA members have about how immigration law and policy really work (or not).

Some of the issues we brought up were focused on business immigration, like adjudications for L-1 and other visas that seem to have tightened up in the past few years without much information about why. We also talked about expedited removals which along the Southern border are surging in numbers, but Leslie was able to give concrete examples of how the Northern border is also being affected.

We tried not to let their eyes glaze over with too many acronyms, though that can be difficult in immigration law.

Leslie talks with International Business Times reporter Laura Matthews

Leslie talks with International Business Times reporter Laura Matthews

Naturally, the latest removal and return numbers came up in several of the conversations and we did our best to explain what the numbers really mean and how they were being sliced and diced differently in some stories but that the absolute numbers, and what they show when it comes to enforcement, remained the same.

The tour included discussions with Public Radio International, the New York Times, WNYC, Bloomberg View, the International Business Times, Fox News and Fox News Latino, the Guardian and the Associated Press. At each and every meeting, AILA Communications staff had set us up to succeed because of their day to day press outreach efforts.  I can’t tell you how many times I heard about the stories that they’d helped on, the extra mile they go to make sure AILA is well-represented in the media, and the vitally important help that they give to reporters on deadline.  All of that work made our meetings start off on a positive note that we were able to build on and frankly made me proud.

Outside the Time Warner Center, April 29, 2014

Outside the Time Warner Center, April 29, 2014

And this media tour isn’t just a one way street.  We can learn from them as well.  We heard repeatedly that AILA is utilized as a knowledge base because we are a bar association dedicated to advancing the practice of immigration law and our expertise is without question. A couple of reporters actually made comments that served to reinforce my belief that to keep that status as the place for accurate and unbiased information, we must strive even harder to avoid positioning ourselves as an advocacy organization that leans one way or the other.

While we were in NYC, we also reconnected with Jeremy Robbins who heads up the Partnership for a New American Economy one of former NYC Mayor Bloomberg’s efforts to bring together mayors and business interests in a centrist organization aimed at getting out the message that immigration reform would be good for the economy. We’re going to be taking a look at their efforts and determining where we may be able to offer the expertise and knowledge about immigration in their districts to help bolster the case that reform is necessary, it’s the right thing to do, and huge side benefit guys: it’ll be good for our country’s bottom line.

As we wrapped up the meetings at the end of Tuesday and began our journeys home, I was grateful for the opportunity and felt that the meetings with these press contacts were invaluable.  I was grateful for the hard work of the AILA Communications team who not only made the meetings happen, put together the background materials for our informational packets, and who I know will make sure that these contacts are cemented and strengthened.  I was also incredibly grateful for the partner I had by my side during the tour: Leslie Holman, our President-Elect.  She was a strong voice for our membership in each and every meeting and I was honored to introduce her to the press as my successor.

So, get out there!  I want to encourage each AILA chapter to consider organizing an event and reach out to their local media.  Each chapter has reporters who reach out to them for stories but strengthening those connections through face-to-face meetings, or through a reporters’ roundtable on immigration, will only make your message more powerful.

And if you’re at a loss as to how to get started, please reach out to George Tzamaras, Belle Woods, or Ellie Rutledge at AILA—they want to help, they have resources they’ve developed and ideas to share.  With their assistance, you can ensure your face-to-face interviews are a success!

 Written by T. Douglas Stump, AILA President

The Long-Awaited and Vitally Important PREA Rule is Imminent

shutterstock_172161761We heard today that the long-awaited and vitally important Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) final regulations will likely be issued next week by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The importance of these regulations cannot be overstated. The PREA Commission found that immigrant detainees are particularly vulnerable to abuse which is why implementation of these regulations is so important.  No one should be subjected to sexual assault or any form of abuse while in government custody.

I’m encouraged, and I know that my fellow AILA members are as well, that the rule’s release is imminent.  It has been nearly two full years since we submitted testimony to the House of Representatives calling for DHS to apply PREA regulations to immigration detention facilities.

The immigrants held in these detention centers have waited far too long for this protection.  It is incredibly important that DHS now moves as quickly as possible to ensure that the new rule covers all facilities – including local jails that contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  Those local jails hold about half of all ICE detainees on any given day so it is imperative that they also be covered by these regulations.

I know that when it is released, AILA staff will be reviewing the final rule.  It is my sincere hope that the changes to detention policy will lessen the fear of abuse that too many immigrant detainees face.

More next week!

Written by AILA President, Doug Stump

No, It’s Not Over

shutterstock_147492446Last week I came to Washington and met with House leaders about immigration reform.  I heard a lot of pessimism and I certainly understand where it’s coming from.  After the high of the Senate bill passage, during AILA’s Annual Conference of course, we’ve descended into the lows of inaction.

There was a glimmer when the House Republican leadership released their standards for immigration reform but then the appearance of backtracking immediately thereafter resulted in a fizzle, rather than an explosion of forward momentum.

But let’s be honest, it was never going to be easy.  But we’ve kept up the fight.

And what’s impressive to me, and keeps me optimistic about our chances, is the fact that immigration reform is turning into an issue that is uniting more and more Americans rather than pulling them apart.

What do I mean?  Well, we’ve got poll after poll that points to an acceptance of the need for reform that helps the undocumented get on the road to citizenship.  We’ve got poll after poll that emphasizes the acceptance of DREAMers as the incredibly deserving group of kids that they are.  We’ve seen a shift in public perception from an emphasis on security and enforcement at all costs towards welcoming and understanding and wanting to DO something about our broken immigration system.

So while Washington, DC may be at a standstill, while Capitol Hill may not be moving, the rest of the country is.

And what that means is that we need to keep up the advocacy, keep up the push, and keep up the hard work in our communities, in our states, and in DC.

Which is why I’m asking you for your time.  Make a visit in February or March to your senator or representative.  Talk to them or their staff about why immigration reform is important.  Offer yourself as a resource, a person they can turn to for solid information about what bills have been brought up in committee, what they would mean for your community, and why this issue is so important.

Tell them about what you’ve witnessed.  Bring along a client and their family if they’re willing.  Share the impact that reform would have on a family facing deportation, local businesses, agriculture, high-tech, what have you.

And then commit to doing the visits again, in DC, as part of AILA’s National Day of Action on April 10.

I’m not giving up.  I’m going to keep meeting, educating, and sharing.  I’m going to keep my voice loud but respectful.  I’m going to make sure that both sides of the aisle know where I stand, and I encourage all of you to do the same.

You can sign up for the National Day of Action online.  It’s free, it’s important, and I hope to see you there.

Written by Doug Stump, AILA President

Representative Goodlatte and Immigration Reform

shutterstock_86506957 (1)In an interview with Telemundo’s Jose Diaz Balart that will air this weekend, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) discussed prospects for immigration reform.  What he reportedly said made me cautiously hopeful. But it also showed me that we all have some work to do to get to smart reform.

According to a transcript of the interview, he talked about the progress that the committee had made last year by passing four bills out of committee.  Now, none of those four bills was anything that I’d want to see become law in their current forms, and at least one of the bills is quite troubling.  A couple of the others have some elements worth using, but need more work.

He didn’t share much about the principles that Speaker Boehner says are forthcoming from House, but he did say that they hoped those principles might galvanize support for immigration reform.  He emphasized the need for interior enforcement and the fact that a large proportion of immigrants who are here unlawfully are actually overstays.  That all seemed reasonable.

I am heartened that he was talking about achieving a legal status “for people who are not lawfully here.”  It is important for any immigration reform to recognize that legality, not mass deportations, is the answer for most of the people here without status.  And he is right that they should be “able to live here, work here, travel to and from their home country.  Be able to– own a business, pay their taxes.”

But stopping there would be a mistake.  The problems that some European and Middle Eastern countries have faced by having people present with no hope of ultimate integration—essentially  a permanent second-class status—have created undue pain for those countries.  Unless we fix the legal immigration system, and make sure that the people whose statuses are regularized now can participate fully in a robust legal immigration system, with an opportunity for naturalization for those who seek it, we will not have lasting reform.

I’m an immigration attorney and after decades in practice, I want change.  I would love to see the day when our system is more than just a cracked and broken set of policies.  I would embrace a new, straightforward immigration system that was clear with lines for people to get into without putting them into decades of limbo.  I want our businesses to get the best and the brightest as employees, and be able to keep them on.  I am eager for the entrepreneurs to feel welcome here in the U.S. and use their talents to drive our economy.  I dearly wish for a day when families are no longer torn apart but instead valued for what they are: the cornerstone of our nation.

I believe that this interview is a thawing of Mr. Goodlatte’s views on immigration and I feel cautiously hopeful that he is committed to really trying to pass meaningful legislation. I, for one, stand ready to help.

This Time Next Year

shutterstock_161204669It’s holiday season again.  For me, no matter what mood I’m in, I find it hard not to smile a bit more this time of year—at Santa collecting donations, or a child’s face lighting up at the taste of a candy cane, or even at the often sappy holiday music that I’m unable to resist singing along to.

We’re so blessed. I know I’ll have a roof over my head, food on the table, and my family around me this Christmas.  I’ll get to start off duck hunting with my lab Otis, see the kids opening their presents, hug my wife, and enjoy the day.

But, I don’t just dwell on all the good.  I also think of a lot of other people who aren’t having quite the same holiday experience.

Is that some sort of human quirk that we don’t just enjoy the moment but instead think of things that aren’t as good?

Well, whatever the reason, this holiday season I’m going to keep thinking about the American families who have lost one or more members this past year to removal.  I’m going to be thinking of the folks in detention, many of whom did nothing more harmful than a minor traffic violation but who have been separated from their families nonetheless.  I’m going to be thinking of the delays that so many petitioners face as they go through the process for a green card.  I’m going to be thinking of all the AILA members who are worried about a client being denied a provisional waiver without a good reason.  I’m going to be thinking about the American businesses, small and large, who could be doing better if they had the right workers but have run into roadblocks due to our messed up immigration system.

Surrounded by wrapping paper, with Christmas music playing, and my family around me, I will say thanks for my good fortune.

And I’ll be getting ready for the immigration reform fight to resume in 2014, with a renewed effort.  Because the human toll of our broken immigration system is both tragic and also avoidable.  I hope you’ll all join me in committing to advocate and educate in 2014.

So that this time, next year, we’re celebrating our newly reformed immigration system, we’re getting ready for the implementation of the new laws, and we’re forever grateful for the opportunity we had to fight for what we believed in.

In the meantime, hug your loved ones, have a happy holiday, and I’ll see you next year.

Military Mixed Messages

shutterstock_68018101A couple of weeks ago we heard from USCIS that adjudicators would be encouraged to use “Parole in Place” for many close relatives of active duty, reservists, and veterans in our nation’s armed services.  It seemed like a no-brainer to many since these brave men and women have served our country and this policy, broadly applied, would free many of them from the stress and fear of their family members being deported.

But in something that feels kind of like a bait and switch to me, we heard just a few days later that some of our armed services have been refusing to enlist American citizens and green card holders because they have spouses or children that are undocumented.

What?

America wants to encourage military service and protect those who serve and their families, but pretty soon you probably won’t have to offer parole in place any more–because you won’t have any enlistees who have undocumented relatives.  Because you will have refused their service.  Turned down these people for no other reason than they are related to immigrants without papers.

You’re not turning them down because they committed a crime—you’re turning them down because of who they love.

I’m happy to report though that this news hasn’t fallen on deaf ears and that a bipartisan group of 31 Congressional members, led by Mike Coffman (R-CO) and Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), has demanded an explanation from our nation’s military leaders.  They want to know some pretty basic information, and I do as well. (I paraphrase four of their questions below):

  1. How long has this been going on?
  2. Are the Army and Air Force doing this too?
  3. How many American citizens and green card holders has this already affected?
  4. How do recruiters determine whether someone has undocumented dependents?

Just to be clear, I understand that for security reasons you need to know who you are swearing in to our country’s service.  I have no problems with that.  If the person trying to enlist doesn’t meet eligibility criteria themselves, don’t let them in. I get it.

But I do have a problem with predicating whether you get to volunteer to serve—and possibly die for our country—solely on who you love and care for.

A Letter to Speaker Boehner

shutterstock_12168481Crystal and I wrote Speaker Boehner a letter that I wish we hadn’t had to send.  His inaction on immigration reform has been incredibly disappointing, as he caves to the pressure from a relatively small group within the Republican party, my party, and does nothing.

Hasn’t brought up a single immigration bill for a vote in the House.  Won’t even consider bringing up a comprehensive bill that legitimately seeks to handle our broken immigration system.  Can’t take the requests from his party members Denham, Ros-Lehtinen, and Valadeo seriously as they sign on to cosponsor H.R. 15.  Doesn’t consider the needs of our country, our people, and our future and lets an economic boost and a trillion dollars in deficit reduction sit unused.

Hasn’t. Won’t. Can’t. Doesn’t.

To my mind, the Speaker of the House shouldn’t be “leading” by telling us what he won’t do.  Negatives are not leadership.  A majority party is supposed to move things forward, not put up roadblocks.  Stop delaying, recognize what is necessary no matter how unpalatable a small minority of our party might see it, and get it done.

Speaker Boehner has wasted much of this year and tried to stall the momentum that immigration reform has had since the last election but we must not give up.

Here’s the thing.  AILA’s members have the somewhat dubious privilege of being on the front lines of our nation’s mishmash of immigration law and policy.  We are frustrated every day by the law’s failure to keep families together, encourage entrepreneurship, and respect due process.

We don’t have a balanced and smart immigration system, instead we have a labyrinth, one that continues to destabilize our society and our economy.  AILA members, law enforcement officials, businesses, and faith and community leaders have become increasingly vocal about the urgency of reform because we see the real world repercussions. We see the U.S. citizen children ending up in foster care because of the Obama Administration’s detention and deportation policies.

We are reluctantly willing to accept a piecemeal approach, but House leadership must recognize the reality that there are many parts to our immigration system and they all must be addressed, improved, and updated or the broken status quo will remain.

As we finish off this year, I will continue to hold Speaker Boehner and the rest of House leadership responsible for the fact that as yet, immigration reform has not received a vote on the House floor.  I will continue to advocate for action, rather than stasis.

Respectfully Mr. Speaker, on immigration reform, our country needs you to lead, follow, or get out of the way.

 

This Veterans Day

shutterstock_124786285The flags are up again.  Not as many as there are around July 4th or Memorial Day, but there are some.  The news outlets have ramped up coverage: stories abound about military families and at memorials around the country veterans groups mark this day with ceremonies, wreath-laying, and salutes.

95 years ago, on November 11th, 1918, they marked the end of the War to End All Wars.  World War I had decimated populations, brought countries to their knees, but it was finally over.

There were sadly, still more wars to follow, but we still celebrate the day that this defining war was brought to an official close.

We recognize our veterans, our friends and family members who have given of themselves for our country and for freedom.  We acknowledge veterans of all wars, those fought long ago and those that continue to affect our brave young people in uniform.

There is no greater gift a nation can be given than people giving up their very selves to fight and possibly die for their country and its values.  Those are our veterans.

Our veterans include immigrants.  Does the American public know that?  Are they aware that immigrants have fought, and are fighting and dying for our country?  That those brave souls consider our country their country and are willing to back up that commitment with the ultimate sacrifice if necessary?

Do they know that immigrants who served, veterans who hold green cards but aren’t citizens, are then still in danger of deportation, if they commit a crime?  That even if they “do the time” they may still be cast out from the United States anyway?  Pulled away from family, from their community, and kicked out, something no citizen is ever going to face?

Do they know that if an American service member falls in love and marries a foreign national, there are legal hoops galore they have to jump through, and often years of upheaval they have to face before their situation is ever resolved?

Do they know that there are potentially hundreds of thousands of people who want to join our armed services and fight for the only country they’ve ever known?  That Deferred Action is a step forward for many of them but that all too many still don’t have that option?

We know these things.

On this Veteran’s Day, please don’t stay silent. Honor veterans by sharing what you know.

Battling Preconceived Notions

shutterstock_99177344We all have preconceived notions.  We all assume things about people and their ideas and actions.  I’m not a child development specialist (well, any more than any dad is), but I think it starts back in childhood, maybe because kids like it when things can be easily sorted and catalogued.  Not that you’ll ever get a five year old to say that outright, but it’s true.  Kids like clear boundaries and things that can easily be defined.  They like to be able to identify this object as going in one box and another as being different and going in a separate box.  Heck, we clap and cheer them on when they do it correctly!

But that sort of thinking hurts us as adults.

If you looked at a description of me on paper, I’m not sure that “immigration lawyer” is what you’d guess as to my career and calling.  If you saw a picture of me hunting, I’m not sure that fighting for a DREAMer’s rights, or helping reunite a family, is what you’d think I was doing on a given day.  In my boots and jeans on the farm, would “business visas” cross your mind?

I’m not the stereotypical immigration lawyer but I’m here to tell you there is no such thing.  AILA has 13,000 members.  We are all unique, we all came to immigration reform from a different perspective and that difference can make our community stronger, if we allow it to.

But if we assume that someone isn’t going to agree with us, or can’t see our point of view, then we are closing a window, barring a door, and guaranteeing that we will never understand each other.

I’m as guilty of having preconceived notions as the next guy, but I’m working on it.  And I’m asking anyone who doubts the importance of immigration reform to let their preconceived notions of what it would mean for our country go by the wayside.  All of you who have given up hope that a particular Congressperson will ever see a different side of the immigration reform message, set those notions aside too.

Let’s all go at this with a renewed sense of purpose.  We know that if the majority of Americans can be in favor of sensible immigration reform with a roadmap to citizenship, then it isn’t a matter of party affiliation determining if someone will see the need for real reform.

We need to kickstart the fight for immigration reform and we need to do it the right way.  We need to broaden the tent, approach those we might not think we have too much in common with, and start the conversation.

I’m asking you all to take a look at assumptions you have made and preconceived notions you consider fact rather than opinion.  Talk to someone with an open mind and instead of assuming theirs is closed, speak as though they are not the “enemy” but instead an observer who simply hasn’t seen what you’ve seen.  Share your knowledge of how our immigration system needs to be fixed, share your reasoning and your passion, and real change can happen.

Harmony Rather than Discord

Reading the paper and watching the news, hearing so many of the pundits and politicians talk about immigration reform, I can almost feel them burrowing for cracks.

The restrictionists have been hammering away, trying to push wedges between stakeholders, between groups, trying to pit “us” against “them” and argue that some will be winners and some will be losers.

Many reporters are looking to see if any of the organizations currently working together will come out against another.  Are there fractures in this coalition?  After years of work and the recent months of concentrated forward momentum, are stresses beginning to show?

I look around at all of us calling for immigration reform and I am heartened to see that the foundation on which we are standing is strong.  That we continue to support each other, the disparate individuals and groups who have come together to fight for a cause greater than any of us.

We’re fighting for families, for businesses, for communities.  We’re battling for rights that reflect our nation’s values.

“Many hands make light work” is a proverb I know well, and I’ve found that it applies beyond working the land. It has real meaning when many come together, agreeing on the need to see change happen.  Having others in this fight, strangers and friends, all pushing towards a common goal does make the work less arduous because we know that in this vital work we are never standing alone.

This time around, there are religious organizations, businesses, and law enforcement groups joining together, calling for immigration reform from the perspective that “Bibles, Badges and Businesses” are united on the need for real reform. And they aren’t the only ones! Many groups are putting aside past differences and focusing on similarities–what we know is needed for our country.

There are many voices raised with ours, millions of lives that can and must be changed through real immigration reform.  Instead of discord, which is what the opposition hopes to hear from us, let’s keep the harmony.