I’ve not always seen eye to eye with AILA — the American Immigration Lawyers Association — although I’ve been a supportive member and active participant in its programs and initiatives for decades, and served on its Board of Governors from 1987 to 1994. At times I grow increasingly dispirited as the interests of its many members too often seemed at cross purposes, and its understandable dependence on revenue from publications and educational programs made me fear that it had lost some of the fire in its belly and some of its soul.
I often wax nostalgic about the early days of AILA. I miss the days when one could leave an AILA conference inspired by its grizzled fighters for immigration justice, with none more inspiring than the late Sam Williamson of Texas. I search the AILA website and, sadly, find little residue of Sam’s influence, other than a “Mentor Award” in his name, given since 1992 for “outstanding efforts and excellent counsel to immigration attorneys by providing mentoring assistance.” I’m happy that AILA honors Sam’s memory but don’t remember him so much as a mentor than an inspiring firebrand who would stand up, point a curled, arthritic finger in the air and shout in reference to the immigration authorities: “Sue the [illegitimate offspring]!”
Sam inspired me because his views, reflected in a 1989 article, were much the same as my own:
. . .if you have a sense of injustice, you will feel anger and outrage, and you, too, will come to look upon the law as a weapon, which it is, and with which you can venture to assuage such injustice and lift these people [immigrants to America] from their degradation. I find such efforts to be worthy. What appears anomalous to me is to find that others do not feel as I do.
I always left every AILA conference where Sam cried out in righteous indignation freshly energized to pursue my clients’ interest as zealously as possible within the all too draconian constraints of America’s immigration laws. Recent AILA conferences have never been the same without Sam (although many new and old members, to be sure, have achieved marvelous outcomes in their immigration cases, while generously mentoring lawyers and modeling best practices in the quest for immigration justice).
Something happened this week, however, to remind me that the spirit of Sam still exists and shines brightly in AILA. In an eloquent, persuasive and lawyerly 24 pages, AILA’s USCIS Headquarters Liaison Committee unmasked as exercises in vacuous reasoning a January 8, 2010 USCIS policy memorandum (and kindred non-precedent decisions of the USCIS Administrative Appeals Office) that deny employment-based immigration benefits to working owners of companies. Although the Obama Administration has proclaimed that the United States government does not engage in torture, the AILA Liaison Committee’s letter to the USCIS Chief Counsel, in a calm and dispassionate way (certainly not in Sam’s style), demonstrates that USCIS tortures logic and smites reason:
[Our correspondence] relates to recent USCIS Administrative Appeals Office decisions and USCIS Service Center adjudications, as well as the [January 8] Neufeld Memorandum, that misapply the reasoning of Supreme Court cases . . . to reach the conclusion that individuals with controlling or substantial interests in a petitioning U.S. company or its foreign parent company cannot — in most cases — be a beneficiary of a nonimmigrant (e.g., L-1, H-1B and O-1) or immigrant employment-based petition. We strongly believe that this USCIS position departs from longstanding binding precedent, ignores the plain language of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and its implementing regulations, thwarts Congressional intent respecting the purpose of the INA, and leads to absurd results.
My point here is not to repeat AILA’s arguments for the absurdity and illegality of USCIS’s reconstruction of immigration jurisprudence and history to ban a class of otherwise deserving entrepreneurs (I’ve already offered my views on the subject). Rather, I applaud the AILA Liaison Committee’s letter because it reminds me that, despite my occasional misgivings about organizational drift and the challenges of speaking in a unified voice, AILA retains the depth of soul and conflagration of belly that makes me (and I hope Sam as well) very proud to stand within its ranks.