Archive for the ‘Legislative Reform’ Category.

Who Are We Turning Away?

Helping handA pregnant woman, separated from her husband in a time of regional conflict and instability, flees the central region of her country with a single suitcase and her 2 year old daughter and 1 year old son. The goal is to travel by train to the closest major southern land border in the hopes of reuniting soon with her husband who is fighting far away from home. Every day, people gather around the border crossing waiting for the gates to open and the glimmer of opportunity to cross into another sovereign land. If you miss the timing and fail to cross, the consequences may be worse than death. With her suitcase in one hand and her 1 year old son holding her other, her two year old daughter grabs onto her mother’s dress as the crowd pushes forward trying to get through. Immovable by the throngs of bodies pushing, the pregnant woman lets the crowd sway her and her children through to the protection promised by the neighboring country.

Once on the other side, she reevaluates her surroundings acknowledging the luggage in one hand, her son in the other and only then is aware that her daughter no longer clings to her dress. She screams amongst the shouting crowd, “Where is my daughter? Where is she?” On the other side of the crossing is the two year old daughter with her eyes only able to see the back of people’s legs unaware of where her family went. With a quick motion, she finds herself atop the shoulders of a man she does not know, a man wearing a business suit walking past the crossing. Disoriented, she is still unaware of where she is or how she lost her mother and brother. This little girl cannot tell time and does not know how long it took before she could her hear her mother’s cries and reunited with her. Without even realizing, this little girl is forever labeled by her mother as “lucky” in their native language. And the identity of the nice gentleman in the business suit is never discovered.

The tale told is not a unique story. Although it happened in 1949, it continues to be a story relatable in our present day. As a young child, I remember my grandmother recounting the horrors of a civil war that destroyed her comfortable life. I never understood what my grandmother meant when she said repeatedly that my mother was so very “lucky.” She rarely talked about everything that happened during that time that pitted Chinese against Chinese. I would only hear snippets growing up. But as I got older, I heard more from other family members, even as my mother told me she had a difficult time remembering much of anything during her younger years in Hong Kong.

When she passed away unexpectedly in 2011, I was in charge of taking care of all the family matters with her death. I vividly recall going through her unorganized stacks of important papers kept all over the house and finding a photocopy of a document titled “Refugee Resettlement Land Allocation” something or another. And in this document was a blurry photo of my mother and her family; her as a preteen and my youngest auntie in my grandmother’s arms.

My mother and her side of the family never lamented how they lost everything in the fighting. Instead, they talked about how grateful they were to be alive and the chances they took to ensure the family’s survival. Despite living in a shanty on a hill in Hong Kong, they were grateful for the British Colonial government’s generosity in allowing them to have a place to call their own, to be safe from harm.

I have spent almost 7 of my 8 years of practice as an immigration attorney hearing stories no different from my family’s own history. What my clients seek under the U.S. asylum law is no different than what my family sought when they asked for refuge in Hong Kong. My clients just want to be able to live their lives in safety, to give their children of the opportunities they didn’t have, to move on from a limbo state of violence and begin anew.

But things have gotten much harder. For instance, in 2008, my asylum clients could reasonably expect to have an interview and receive a decision within 4 months. Now, a current client finds themselves in a U.S. asylum system where the wait may be well over two years just for an interview to present their case before an asylum officer. In the meantime, they are ineligible to apply for work authorization until their case has been pending 150 days. And even once that deadline has passed, many face further delays and cryptic reasons for the inability of the U.S. immigration service to process their request.

In my practice, I find myself telling clients that they may wait years before an interview is scheduled. I find myself having to give them cold hard numbers to understand the uphill journey they will set themselves on if they decide to apply for asylum. I tell them that in our jurisdiction, the asylum office has over 10,000 backlogged cases waiting for an interview. I tell them that an average 900 new cases are submitted monthly with only 300-600 cases interviewed that same month.

During this time, they find themselves physically safe but still in a state of panic thinking of their families that stayed behind. The only way for them to bring their children or spouses away from the dangers in their country is for them to win their case. Unlike what my mother and her family went through, my clients find themselves living in limbo never knowing how long or when they may be able to tell their stories. They spend each day wondering when and if they can ever reunite with their family members in safety.

How did my family story end up? Well, at the age of 17, my mother was recruited to train as a nurse in England. She eventually immigrated to the United States in the late 1960’s and brought my grandmother, two aunts and two uncles to the U.S. My mother’s family was small. They only had each other. If my mother tried to bring over her family in the present day, it would most likely only be my grandmother that would be allowed to immigrate. The decades long wait times for brothers and sisters would eliminate any possibility of a timely reunification. What would be lost would be an entire generation of people. Every child from my mother and her siblings (we were all born in the U.S.) went on to graduate from colleges such as Notre Dame, University of Chicago, Vanderbilt, University of Southern California and University of Texas. This is what the U.S. loses out on when delays in adjudications go on for years.

As the immigration debate intensifies into politics, what often gets forgotten are the individuals, the living beings, affected by the current broken system. As rhetoric takes aim at increasing funding for enforcement and a growing police state near the borders, people lose sight of the lack of resources and funding needed to help people who are waiting in limbo.

Politics has gotten in the way of what truly matters in this debate: fixing the laws to reduce wait times, reinforcing existing infrastructure to allow the immigration agency and its employees to adjudicate cases, giving people the opportunity to have their cases heard and allowing people to begin their lives. Immigration is about people, not politics, and President Obama should do all he can to make our system work.

Written by Tammy Lin, AILA Media Advocacy Committee Member 

Administrative Action Wish List, Part 2

AdminReform_300x200During the past several presidential election cycles, politicians of all stripes have acknowledged that our immigration laws are antiquated and need reform. Unfortunately, for all of their bluster, nothing has been accomplished through Congress. Lacking Congressional action, the President announced earlier this year that he will be issuing executive orders to address some of the problems in the current immigration system.

There are a number of actions the president can take through the Department of Homeland Security that would provide relief for many immigrants already in the U.S. while supporting family unity, promoting economic growth, and ensuring national security through documenting masses of people who are currently undocumented and unknown to our government agencies. One such action is through expanding parole in place (PIP) – a process that is familiar to DHS and the public and is already available to a small number of foreign nationals.

PIP is currently a form of relief available to immigrants who entered the country without authorization but have an immediate relative who has either served or is currently serving in the U.S. armed forces. The process currently involves the immediate relative service member or veteran applying for a parole document on behalf of the foreign national. Once granted, the foreign national receives a parole document that serves as an inspection document without having to leave the country and re-enter. With this parole document – and with an approved or concurrently filed I-130 – the foreign national might be eligible to adjust his/her status by using the parole document as proof of authorized inspection for the purposes of an adjustment of status. Of course, the foreign national still needs to be otherwise qualified to get a green card.

The authority for parole in place comes from INA § 212(d)(5)(A), which allows for the Secretary of Homeland Security to parole in foreign nationals who are seeking admission to the U.S. or who are already unlawfully present in the U.S.

President Obama should expand this system to include all immediate family of U.S. citizens. This would allow foreign nationals who have an immediate U.S. citizen family member who’s only bar of adjustment being their unlawful entry to the U.S. to be eligible for permanent residency. This, like the current PIP process, would not cure any other inadmissibility issues such as criminal activity, but would allow for otherwise law abiding residents of this country to gain legal, documented status.

This action would provide several benefits: providing for a permanent status for people who would be living in the country anyway, ensuring that residing foreign nationals are not separated from their immediate U.S. citizen family member, documenting previously undocumented people, and thus providing information and security for the rest of the populace.

There will be little or no expense to the government for doing this – since most immigration applications have a processing fee that DHS will use for their adjudication.

This action would also have the added benefit of unclogging much of the current immigration system by allowing for a quick and easy process for non-dangerous foreign nationals to gain lawful status and allow for DHS and ICE to spend their limited and currently stretched resources on detaining and removing violent and dangerous persons.

With so many benefits available in expanding PIP, President Obama should direct the Secretary to use his authority under the Immigration and Nationality Act to grant parole to unlawfully present aliens to all foreign nationals with immediate U.S. relatives.

Written by Ally Bolour, Member, AILA Media Advocacy Committee

What It Boils Down To

shutterstock_170940386Well, pundits are hashing over what happened on Tuesday but here’s what it boils down to: Republicans will have control of the Senate in the next Congress (at least 52-43), as well as strengthening their majority in the House (at least 243-175).

A new Congress offers possibilities, offers the hope of action to revamp our immigration laws. We had quite the time over the last Congress with the Senate passing bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform. We were full of hope. And then…crickets chirped while we stood waiting for the House to act.

No such luck. But here’s the thing, AILA worked with both Republicans and Democrats as we always do and will continue to do so, offering expertise about what parts of our immigration system are broken and solutions for how to create a new system that actually works for business, families, and our country as a whole.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the fact that the majority of Americans want action on immigration reform, and that the possibility of legalizing the undocumented still wins out over “deport them all.” That’s heartening as we head into the holidays and the last few weeks of this lame duck Congressional period.

We have some time left before 2015 and President Obama must keep his promise to deliver major administrative reforms by the end of the year. Delay has only meant more broken families and frustrated businesses. These are folks I hear from every single day. What we want, in the absence of our real need for legislative reform, is for President Obama to do what is within his legal authority to fix the immigration system.

I know some are worried about executive action not helping matters, but here’s the thing: We can’t afford to wait any longer. Businesses can’t afford to be left hanging, trying to hire the best person to stand up a factory, or create new products. Entrepreneurs from all over the world who have big ideas and want to start their companies here shouldn’t have roadblocks thrown in their way. Families can’t wait any longer for the chance to be reunited with a loved one when the only thing bogging down the process is our convoluted bureaucracy. And we can’t continue to deport people with close family in, and long-term ties to, the U.S.

So, let’s turn from this election with renewed energy. Push for administrative action while strengthening relationships with Hill offices from both sides of the aisle. Offer information and expertise to the newly elected coming to D.C. And greet this next chapter in the fight for immigration reform with strength and determination.

Written by Leslie A.  Holman, AILA President

Latinos: History Proves Your Votes Can Make a Difference

shutterstock_37571284Elections are just around the corner and given the likelihood that Republicans will take control of the Senate the Latino vote is more crucial than ever.

But why would Latinos pass on voting this year?  The answer: most are dissatisfied with President Obama’s broken promises on immigration reform.

In 2012, Latinos played a major role in awarding President Obama a second term. They gave him 71% of their vote, relying on Mr. Obama’s promise to enact immigration reform.  A few months after the election, and with the support of the White House, the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform package.  But the House GOP leadership refused to act—finally admitting in June of this year that they had no intention of considering immigration reform legislation.

President Obama responded by promising to use his executive authority to make the immigration system work as best it could—and he said he would act by Labor Day.  Yet once the summer heat subsided, and the green leaves faded to beautiful fall colors, Mr. Obama’s promise gave way to a delay in the use of his executive authority until after the midterm elections.  Once again, it seemed, party politics trumped unjustified deportations.

Is it any surprise then that Latinos feel used and abused by the politicians in Washington?

For them, immigration isn’t simply a political issue.  It’s personal.  It’s about loved ones who have been detained and deported without reprieve since Mr. Obama took office in 2009.  His decision to delay using his authority to provide temporary relief to millions of undocumented immigrants has, understandably, angered Latinos and led them to seriously question the President’s commitment to issues that affect their community.

Some immigration reform advocates, arguing that Democrats should be held accountable for inaction on immigration, have gone so far as to call for a boycott of the November midterm elections.

But I disagree.  The enormous power of the Latino vote should not be wasted on a boycott. To the contrary, Latinos should stand proud at the polls next Tuesday as part of an historic movement of change and progress for our nation.

Neither Democrats nor Republicans can take the Latino vote for granted.  Historically they have been a swing constituency and it is only in recent years that Latinos have voted in far greater numbers for Democrats.  Ours is a vote to be fought for–and big elections will be won or lost depending on which way we vote.

History has proved the power of the Latino vote in state elections too. One clear example of such power is the 2010 California gubernatorial race.  Back then, California Governor Jerry Brown was struggling with Latinos. His campaign seemed indifferent to the concerns of Latino voters until his Republican opponent, Meg Whitman, started making gains. In 2010, anti-immigrant legislation was trending across conservative-led states, including Arizona, Georgia and Alabama.  Latino advocates showed the negative economic effects of the states’ racial profiling policies and Governor Brown then understood the power of the Latino community.  Now, Governor Brown has a record of signing laws that have truly set the national standard for pragmatic, well-reasoned policies regarding immigrants.  These include pushing back against detainers, allowing undocumented immigrants the right to practice law and qualify for driver’s licenses and, more recently, codifies the jurisdiction of state courts to issue orders regarding protecting unaccompanied immigrant minors.

Two decades after California voters backed Proposition 187—which was later declared unconstitutional—Governor Brown gets it.

Like they did in California, Latino voters nationwide have an opportunity—indeed a responsibility—to show America that real change happens when citizens vote.  What matters more than who they vote for is the fact that they vote and show their power. The Republicans, Democrats and Independents may continue with their political gamesmanship, but Latino voters need to get to the polls and show the politicians that immigration reform is not only the right thing to do, it’s smart politics.

Written by Annaluisa Padilla, immigration attorney and Second Vice President, American Immigration Lawyers Association

Welcoming Brilliance to Our Shores

Image of the Nobel Prize Medal. Source: http://www.nobelprize.org

Image of the Nobel Prize Medal. Source: http://www.nobelprize.org

Birds do it, bees do it, even educated PhDs do it…

In this case, I’m not referring to falling in love as in the popular song from the 1930s, but migrating.  There are many aspects to what drives people to leave their country of birth and make a new country home.  When people rail against immigrants, I have to assume they don’t understand the economic and cultural benefits that our country has gained from so many over the years. Do they think that you can determine at birth what someone will accomplish? High skilled immigration is vitally important but if one focuses solely on those we know have reached a certain pinnacle, we are leaving out many more that could achieve great things if given the opportunities that so many of our residents take for granted.

One of the pinnacles of intellectual success has been awarded over the last several weeks: the Nobel Prize. The Nobel Prize Committee just completed announcing the winners of its prestigious awards for chemists, physicists, doctors, economists, writers, and those interdisciplinarians whose work overlaps into one of the fields.

What fascinates me, as an immigration attorney with feet in both the U.S. and U.K. for my practice, is that so many are immigrants.  For the U.S. alone, the Institute for Immigrant Research at George Mason University in Virginia, notes that from 1901-2013, “30.7% of these U.S. awarded Nobel Prizes are garnered by persons who immigrated to the United States.” That percentage far exceeds the proportion of the U.S. population which is foreign-born, which in 2010 the U.S. Census Bureau estimated at 12.9%.  Again and again we see that immigrants contribute to a nation’s wealth and this is no exception.

Three of this year’s winners are particularly interesting examples.  Shuji Nakamura, originally from Japan was awarded for his work in Physics with the University of California, Santa Barbara (USCB).   As UCSB reports, Dr. Nakamura was born and educated in Japan, coming to the US as a visiting research associate; he has since made his career in the U.S. and his research has led to the development of a lamp that might help the estimated 1.5 billion people worldwide without access to a power grid.

John O’Keefe, a native New Yorker, who was this year awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his work with University College London, is quoted as saying immigration rules are “a very, very large obstacle” to hiring the best scientists.  While he was referring to the U.K. immigration rules, this statement could easily be projected to the U.S. where immigration laws drafted decades ago have not kept up with business, technology or the reality of the global economy.  And finally, another winner from the U.K., Malala Yousafzai, is also an immigrant.  Originally from Pakistan, Ms. Yousafzai is the youngest Nobel Laureate in history and is in the process of receiving honorary citizenship from Canada.

What these Nobel Laureates show us is that the best and the brightest are mobile and the U.S. must be able to compete for talent on a global stage.  The U.S. needs an immigration system that works at every level, high to low skill and everywhere in between, a system that takes into account the market needs and the importance of family reunification. We don’t have that now, and it is incredibly disappointing that Congress has yet to do its duty and pass good legislation that will make a real difference for all.  Who knows, should Congress act, they may find themselves recipients of the Nobel Prize for conferring  “the greatest benefit on mankind.” – common sense immigration reform.

Written by Anastasia Tonello, AILA Treasurer

Action on Immigration is Long Overdue

shutterstock_106049372Over the past week I spent some time considering the pros and cons of President Obama taking executive action on immigration. Is this really the right approach to handling our mounting immigration problem? Should we wait on Congress to finally get a bill passed? If we wait on Congress will our current batch of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients be at retirement age when that happens? I finally came to the conclusion that executive action is the appropriate step and it should not wait until after the November elections. A couple of interactions finally convinced me that unilateral action is the right move from the President:

Last Monday morning I received a call from a man who was frantically trying to stop the removal of his wife, Maria, by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This is not an isolated occurrence, by the way. The call came in at around 11:00 a.m. and ICE already was in the process of executing the removal. They said she would be on her way to Mexico at 2 p.m. The removal was being expedited because the women had been previously deported by the border patrol without a judicial hearing over a decade ago. Therefore, she was subject to reinstatement of removal.

I rushed down to the ICE Enforcement and Removal Office in south Tucson. There I met her husband where he provided me with a small file folder filled with random documents. He explained to me that she suffered from seizures since the age of 3 years old and needs to consistently take an anti-seizure drug and receive medical care. He also explained that he himself suffers from numerous ailments including diabetes, hypertension and a chronic shoulder problem. Maria cares for him and he could not envision her being sent to Mexico with a high probability of not getting back to the United States. Maria has a U.S. citizen child, a child with DACA and she also is the primary caregiver to her 72-year-old mother.

ICE accepted the form but only gave Maria a temporary Order of Supervision requiring her to report again in 30 days while they review the request. Will they grant the stay of removal? It is difficult to say, but ICE denies a significant number of these requests.  Maria and her husband asked, “What else we can do?” What could I say? I responded with, “Pray that the President will announce something soon.” It is the same line I have told hundreds of people looking for options to fix their immigration dilemma: “Hopefully reforms will come soon.”

The next day I consulted with a surgeon from India. After several years of being on both J-1 and H-1B visas, he was hoping to become a permanent resident of the United States. I explained to him that there is currently a backlog for most highly skilled immigrants from India that could cause the process to take between 5-15 years. He was perplexed by the wait time and told me that he was already considering a move to either Canada or some other developed country that may appreciate his skills more.

For over a decade, I have been saying the system is broken. The U.S. government has failed on immigration, and in the meantime millions have been deported and families have been torn apart. Businesses have to wait each year for a random lottery to determine whether they will even be eligible to pay, on average, over $2,000 in filing fees just for the government to determine if they can hire a foreign worker with specialized skills. Businesses have been forced to outsource their labor or set up operations outside the United States due to this mounting problem as well as other immigration obstacles.  Aspiring immigrants are stuck waiting for several years and oftentimes decades to become permanent residents.

These are only a couple of examples of the damage our messed up immigration system has had on our economy and our community.  It is time for drastic changes to take place.  Maria, her husband and family need immediate relief.  The President taking action is long overdue. If Congress won’t do their job, I believe the President should do it for them. Go big Mr. President!

Written by Mo Goldman, Chair, AILA Media Advocacy Committee

Ignoring the Economics of Immigration

shutterstock_188334569Jeffrey Dorfman’s recent opinion piece in Forbes purporting to make the economic case against comprehensive immigration reform doesn’t stand up once his underlying data and unstated premise are examined.  With regard to the data, his piece relies almost entirely on a Heritage Foundation report released last year which attempted to assess the possible fiscal costs that might come from legalizing 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. The report (a retread of a 2007 study by the same authors), was widely rejected by conservatives for shoddy methodology.

Both reports rely on faulty assumptions to inflate apparent costs, including unrealistic projections of how many immigrants could become legalized; double counting categories of immigrants (counting temporary workers as immigrants when they arrive, for example, and then again when they are allowed to stay permanently); and  assuming that nearly all immigrants would bring extended family to the United States.  The study also fails to account for the economic benefits of a growing, legal workforce, highlighted by both the Congressional Budget Office and conservative writers.

The Congressional Budget Office looked at the economic benefits of immigration reform in a comprehensive way and you know what they found?  That the benefits of an increase in legal residents from immigration legislation (S. 744) – which includes a pathway to citizenship – would far outweigh the costs. The findings in their report give proof that implementing smart immigration reform will strengthen the U.S economy. Creating an immigration system that puts immigrants on a path to citizenship will not only boost wages and entrepreneurship, but will also bring more tax contributions and spending in local economies. The report estimates that in the first decade after enactment, the immigration bill’s net effect of adding millions of additional taxpayers would decrease the federal budget deficit by $197 billion, even with higher spending on border security and government benefits. Over the next decade, the report found, the deficit reduction would be even greater – an estimated $700 billion, from 2024 to 2033.

So much for the data.  But what about the unstated premise of Dorfman’s argument?  Assuming the data is correct that anyone in the United States – from illegal immigrant to US citizens—receives more in government transfer payments than in taxes they pay, he argues that immigrants who are already here should not be granted a path to legal status.  If his argument is correct, however, why stop there?  If US citizens are a drain on government coffers if they lack a college degree, should they be removed as well?  And why stop at individuals?  According to a study from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, Mississippi, West Virginia and North Dakota all receive more per person from the federal government than they pay per person in taxes, so perhaps Dorfman would prefer that those states be removed from the Union?

Dorfman’s argument against legalizing lower-skilled immigrants ignores the important role that those immigrants play by increasing the productivity of the economy as a whole.  These immigrants work in more strenuous occupations than Americans, on average.  The ability of college-educated Americans to subcontract the work of food preparation, domestic chores and child-rearing to Americans and immigrants without a college degree is a win-win: complementing each other’s skills makes both groups more productive.  And finally, as Dorfman himself said in another context, “this win-win idea is not just in terms of income. In a capitalist society, people get rich by making somebody else better off.”  The economy will prosper when we make our currently-illegal workforce better off by legalizing their status, allowing them to raise the price of their labor in the market, thereby increasing the share of taxes they pay and their purchasing power.

Dorfman frames the choice on comprehensive immigration reform as being a “balance of compassion versus cost.”  Legalizing immigrants may be compassionate, but Dorfman ignores the substantial evidence that it will be an economic benefit as well.

Written by Bill Stock, AILA First Vice President

Let’s Dance

Leslie DanceThis blog post is adapted from the speech I gave when I was installed as AILA’s President for the 2014-15 term. I was thrilled to be able to reflect at the Annual Conference hosted by my home chapter, the New England Chapter of AILA.

New England is where I found immigration and, if I hadn’t found immigration I don’t think that I would be practicing law. I started my legal career in New York as a commercial litigator, but I found my calling after moving to Vermont. I found it in immigration law through dance in Vermont – African dance in Vermont.

While I have always loved to dance, I’m not the most adept at it, but that never stopped me from enjoying all forms of dance in all its facets. So it was that in 1998 I began attending African dance classes in Burlington. Several members of the National Ballet of Guinea as well as Senegal and the Ivory Coast lived and worked in Burlington and after class they would ask me questions about their immigration status (P-3s). However, I knew nothing about immigration whatsoever and referred them to a terrific immigration attorney instead.

I am a first generation American (my mother was born in and escaped from Hungary) and between my history and my involvement with foreign dancers I made a life altering decision by deciding to concentrate only on immigration.  I distinctly remember my first task. I needed to determine whether a client had been admitted to the U.S. Admitted? They were here weren’t they?  – Of course they were admitted.  It took 16 hours of research before I realized that I had entered a world where nothing was as it seemed: the world of immigration law.

Five years ago I started on my way to the AILA presidency, working my way up from Secretary through all the roles and responsibilities until this year. Looking back at those years, I reviewed the goals I had set out each year for myself and the organization. I took a look at what had been resolved and accomplished, what issues recurred over and over again, what issues still remain, and which of my goals have not yet been reached.

While many of my priorities changed from year to year one issue remained constant – ironically it was the lack of consistency and predictability in adjudications, determinations, rulings, and admissions – and the need to fix this through, among other things, interagency engagement. Our world requires that we typically deal with not just one agency, but at least two, and generally three.

When I meet with new clients, I along with other immigration attorneys, often find myself saying something akin to the following during our initial consultation:  “Before we proceed it is imperative that you understand that, even if your petition is approved by the USCIS, you are not home free. You also need approval from the Department of State and then, even if you pass that hurdle, you still must obtain permission from U.S. Customs and Border Protection to actually enter the U.S.”

This situation is unfortunately a constant in all areas of our practice whether it is business, family, or removal. Think of H-1B visas denied after petition approval for critical employees, approved fiancées who never get here, or as we call it in our office, “love’s labors lost,” or waiver applicants with provisional grants denied on other grounds not previously believed to make one inadmissible. The interagency disconnect is not limited to the petition, visa, and subsequent admission situation. It is also at the heart of so many of the procedural issues that we face.

Thus, it makes sense that my primary long-term goal relates to AILA’s liaison work. One of the many benefits of living in Vermont is that I learned to practice immigration in a place where I truly had access to government officials and was able to work with them to address some of the issues that came up as a result of interagency miscommunication.

Having learned to practice where openness and accessibility continue to be the standard has guided my vision. Those of you who have sat in meetings with me likely have heard two recurrent themes. The first is that my local CBP, USCIS, and ICE offices are the exemplar. I have never felt that I could not approach them and they have always been willing to talk and listen. The second is a request I make, at each and every meeting: whether the agency would be open to a multi-agency dialogue at a later date.

I believe that many of our adjudication and process problems stem from the fact that two or more agencies have conflicting interpretations of the law or regulations and that they do not actually know the effect that their actions have on the applicant when that applicant must next deal with another agency. They may not know what switching to an automated form might mean for another agency which still requires a hardcopy. I believe that we could solve so many issues if we were just permitted to sit down together and explain the problems that crop up.

Interagency engagement is not the only way to attain more consistency and predictability in what we do. Another aspect is the need to locate, isolate, and change the negative policy that seems to be driving so many adjudications, decisions, and admissions. In our area of practice, I think more than in any other, discretion abounds. But it seems that more often than not the trend is toward denial rather than acceptance.

Earlier I told you that I found immigration through African Dance. However, not only did African Dance lead me to immigration, it taught me immigration. In representing my dance community I encountered early on in my career almost every immigration situation there is. The good news is that I was able to help them, at least until fairly recently.

Almost three years ago, one of my clients returned home to Guinea to visit his family and bring back new and current dance and drum rhythms. He had an approved P-3 and had never been in trouble with the law or violated his status. However despite that, his visa was denied for immigrant intent. He had returned to Guinea because of his strong family ties, yet he was denied. That sort of denial would not have happened just a few years ago.

Through all the ups and downs of immigration law practice, one thing has been constant – AILA. AILA is a community where people who perform the same work can obtain from it the tools they need to practice their profession. I truly believe that with just the InfoNet and AILAlink immigration attorneys have all the tools they need to practice immigration and, practice it well. But by also offering accessibility to mentors, practice management help, ethics guidance, media training, advocacy, and liaison assistance, immigration attorneys get all that they need to become well rounded and truly excellent in their field.

More than that though, I believe AILA goes far beyond just a professional community. It is also a fellowship. I practiced law for 11 years before joining AILA. I never experienced elsewhere the support, camaraderie and professional generosity with my peers that I found here. I ask that all of you continue to engage, to care deeply about AILA and its governance, and to share your thoughts and insights.

I am looking forward to this year. To liaising with the government and you. To working together to make positive changes in immigration, to make things better for our clients, to making AILA the best it can be.

Almost every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday I wake up with a feeling that something is special. They are dance days. I hope that every day this coming year is a dance day. If that happens I know that we can accomplish our goals and make a difference, as, in the words of the Hopi who steadfastly believed that through dance they would influence the Gods and accomplish their goals,  – To watch us dance is to hear our hearts speak. So, let’s dance!

Written by Leslie A. Holman, AILA President

To watch Leslie’s full speech, including a performance by her friends from the African dance and drumming community Jeh Kulu, watch here: Video: Leslie Holman Installation Speech

Getting a Little Serious about the Need for Immigration Reform

shutterstock_197321441This is a post adapted from my speech last week in accepting an award from AILA for outstanding contributions made as a young lawyer in the field of immigration and nationality law. While the occasion was a happy one and I was honored to receive that award, I took the opportunity, as I do here, to emphasize what is wrong with our current system and that we desperately need to fix it.  I hope you find it of interest:

As I think about the great migrations of people, I’m reminded of my own “gringa” migration from the heartland of Iowa to Washington, D.C. While my own journey was not nearly as harrowing an experience, it is that journey that led me to practice immigration law, to AILA, and to the work that I’m so passionate about.

I have been incredibly lucky to have several amazing people guiding me throughout my journey. My parents who taught me that everyone no matter their background deserves the chance to pursue their dreams. My wonderful husband Justin, whose constant love and support sustains me. Michelle Mendez, my friend and co-professor in the Catholic University immigration clinic who is the most selfless, passionate advocate that I know. The dedicated staff of Benach Ragland, and my partners who I deeply respect and admire; there is no one else I would rather work with in pursuit of our shared mission. Finally my mentor, the late great Michael Maggio: despite his busy immigration practice, he always found time to contribute to our field as a policy advocate, a pro bono champion and a mentor. I have strived to use Michael’s well-rounded approach to our work as a model in contributing through my own practice, especially as I’ve observed the developments in our field over the last few years.

We’re going to get a little serious now.

We are now faced with a humanitarian crisis at our borders.  CBP and ICE officers are using excessive force, inhumane detention conditions, and “no process” removals. We are faced with immigration courts fighting against insufficient resources, overcrowded dockets and cabined legal discretion. And we are faced with a renewed assault on our asylum system by Congress and the agencies themselves.

Yet, no actions are taken by those in power to fix our system. Instead we have a Congress that points fingers and strikes a pose in Capitol Hill hearings and an Administration which, on the back of an immigration reform-focused campaign, has taken to putting Band-Aids on gashes rather than treating the underlying wounds.

Until we have leaders who are going to work together to solve real problems that affect real people, American businesses, and separated families, it is up to us. It is for these reasons that this award is only the beginning of my journey.

Thank you so much for this honor and I hope you will join me in restoring due process and humanity in our immigration system.

Written by Dree Collopy, 2014 Joseph Minsky Young Lawyer Award Winner

 

What the Tony Awards Can Teach Us About Immigration

This year’s Tony Awards will be presented on Sunday, June 8 in New York City.  I’ve always been a fan of the ceremony and, having seen a fair number of the nominees, I was struck by the strong intersection between Broadway theatre and immigration this year.

Take for example, A Raisin in the Sun, nominated for Best Revival of a Play, Best Actress and Best Director.  The play opens with Langston Hughes poem, Dream Deferred: 

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore–

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over–

like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

The title of the poem including the words “dream deferred” immediately struck me as relevant to the current immigration debate with the DREAM Act and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in the news.

Similarly, the struggle and eventual success to bring our great nation from segregation to equal rights, both incredibly difficult and long overdue, closely parallels the struggles of many immigrants today.  Political debate and the conversation around immigration reform are reflected in another one of one of this year’s Tony nominees, All the Way.  This Best Play nominee follows President Johnson’s herculean efforts to convince Congress to enact the Civil Rights Acts of 1964. The political landscape may have changed, but perhaps President Obama could take a lesson in manipulation, or at least negotiation, from Tony nominee, Bryan Cranston, the actor portraying LBJ in motivating Congress to act.

In addition to the political parallels, this year’s ceremony, hosted by Hugh Jackman, originally from Australia, includes the nominees who  mirror academia and the business world; the list of the best of the best on Broadway includes not only Americans but natives of Switzerland, Cuba, Ireland, former Yugoslavia, Canada and the U.K.  In the technical categories, a non-U.S. citizen is included in the short list of every category barring one.

Broadway theatre is widely acknowledged as the best in the world.  It is a mixture of cultures, perspectives and stories which reflect our country, the American people and their dreams.  Broadway itself is the child of immigrants.  The names most closely associated with the Broadway tradition are largely those belonging to some of New York’s earliest immigrants in the late nineteenth century.  If you’ve ever watched a Broadway musical, and marveled at the production, then you owe some thanks to Florenz “Flo” Ziegfeld Jr., the child of a German father and French mother, he grew up in Chicago and is considered an “American icon” and father of the modern musical show.

Fred Astaire’s father was from Austria—you may not recognize his given name of Fred Austerlitz. Julia Elizabeth Wells – also known as Broadway legend, Julie Andrews – hails from the U.K.  Audrey Hepburn, Ann-Margret, Alan Cumming, Rita Moreno, Sophie Okonedo and so many other immigrants have brought their talents to The Great White Way.  Countless producers, managers, choreographers, technicians, and playwrights also helped establish and continue the proud Broadway tradition of world-class entertainment.

Last year, part of Broadway itself was named “Juan Rodriguez Way” in honor of a freed slave from the former island of Hispaniola, now the Dominican Republic, who became the first non-native immigrant to ever settle in present day Manhattan in 1613. Broadway continues to inspire immigrants who make this country their own.

So on Sunday evening, when the Tony Awards are presented, I will not only be enjoying the spectacle of theatre, but also a proud tradition and industry which has welcomed and celebrated immigrants since its earliest days.

Written by Anastasia Tonello, AILA Secretary