Why AILA's "Justice Campaign" Misses the Mark on Advocacy During the Trump Administration

Alexander J. Segal's picture

As a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), I receive many communications from them. Followers of my blog will likely notice that the opinions I express on immigration are well right of those expressed by most immigration attorneys and advocates seen in the media. AILA, being comprised of many of those immigration attorneys and advocates, tends to take positions to my left on immigration policy and many other issues. The differences have become clearer with the new immigration policies being implemented by the administration of President Donald Trump. To examine some of the differences, I would like to share with you and analyze an advocacy email I received from AILA announcing its “Justice Campaign” [see message].

AILA's “Justice Campaign”

AILA begins by stating that “[o]ver the last several months, a growing movement has arisen to oppose anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies that are grounded in stereotypes and xenophobia.” AILA writes that “[h]undreds of thousands of people” “have challenged policies that undermine our values, principles of fairness, and the rule of law.” AILA then states that “[t]housands of lawyers and many organizations who want to help are turning to AILA and the American Immigration Council because they know we have been leading the fight for a just immigration system for more than 70 years.”

It does not take a great detective to ascertain that AILA is referring to protests against President Trump and his immigration statements and policies. After discussing what has transpired over the past few months, AILA invites its members to join its “Justice Campaign.” AILA prefaces the Justice Campaign by stating that “our clients have suffered 'separate, but unequal' treatment at the hands of an outdated immigration system that does not guarantee due process for all.”

AILA states that through the Justice Campaign, it will:

Foster a culture of aggressive, zealous representation.
Provide our membership with the tools need to achieve positive case outcomes.
Mobilize lawyers well beyond the immigration bar to bring their skills and their pro bono commitment to the fight.
Leverage the transformative act of defending immigrants facing removal by providing opportunities for litigation and advocacy.
Change the immigration system in this country.

Finally, in addition to fostering zealous representation of clients, AILA states that the Justice Campaign “will promote sensible, humane, and just immigration policies…”

Where I Agree and Where I Disagree

Before stating where I disagree with AILA and the “Justice Campaign,” I will note areas of agreement. As an immigration attorney, I take pride in zealously representing all of my clients and using every tool available to achieve positive case outcomes under the existing immigration laws. This passion is shared by everyone working at The Law Offices of Grinberg & Segal, PLLC. To that effect, AILA provides immigration attorneys with extensive resources and tools to assist in legal research and effectively representing clients. I fully support AILA in its efforts to help immigration attorneys ensure that all of their clients receive the best representation possible and fair treatment under the immigration laws of the United States.

Furthermore, I agree with AILA that we have “an outdated immigration system.” However, I often disagree with AILA on the remedies for this outdated immigration system.

To be sure, I was critical of much of President Trump's rhetoric and proposals on immigration during the campaign. I encourage you to read my blog entries from the presidential primaries and the general election to see many of my critiques of the Trump campaign. However, we must now judge President Trump and his administration on the immigration policies it is inacting, not on his campaign rhetoric. The American people rendered a verdict on President Trump's campaign in November — that is why he is “President” Trump now.

I reluctantly supported President Trump in the general election [see blog], and I have thus far been happy with many — but not all — of his policies. He is making inroads on improving immigration enforcement from the Obama Administration [see article], and I support the principles behind his so-called “travel ban” (although I was critical of the implementation of the initial Executive Order [see blog]). Immigration reform must start with securing our borders, properly enforcing the immigration laws, and ensuring that our immigration system is oriented toward the interests of the United States [see blog]. President Trump is therefore correct to focus on enforcement to start. Furthermore, President Trump has made promising comments regarding the idea of reforms to make our immigration system more “merit-based,” that is, focused on bringing in high-skilled workers rather than fostering the migration of persons who may not be self-sufficient or otherwise lack skills that would contribute to the U.S. economy [see blog].

AILA's approach to President Trump lacks any semblance of nuance at all. Much of its statement reads as if it is as stuck in the campaign as President Trump does himself on occasion. While his enforcement policies are certainly harsher than those that would be preferred by AILA, the President Trump has shown already that he is open to compromise. For example, he has thus far taken no action to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program [see article], and has pledged to work for a permanent solution for DACA recipients [see blog]. Furthermore, President Trump has pointed to supporting pro-immigration reforms to bring in high-skilled workers, as I noted in the previous section.

Just as I disagreed with many of President Obama's immigration policies, AILA will surely disagree with many of President Trump's. However, AILA's Justice Campaign ignores the reality that the majority of Americans support secure borders and immigration enforcement in addition to pro-immigration policies. There are certainly areas where AILA will feel compelled to oppose the Trump Administration categorically. However, AILA's Justice Campaign would have the potential to be far more effective if it also examined areas where it may be able to work with the Trump Administration to modernize our immigration system with pro-immigration reforms.

For all of our disagreements, please see one of my blogs for an example of where my position on an immigration issue is in accord with AILA's (note that the Supreme Court would rule the other way) [see blog].

Why AILA's "Justice Campaign" Misses the Mark on Advocacy During the Trump Administration