The actions and rhetoric throughout the first weeks of the Trump Administration have placed immigration at the top of the national agenda. Beginning with the three Executive Orders the first week, followed by the chaos at the airports due to the Muslim/refugee ban, and the stark realization that Candidate Trump was now President Trump with the full power of the presidential office behind him, immigration lawyers saw a shift in their everyday lives.
What may have once been a calm and quiet discussion of next steps became a frantic, terrified preparation session “in case” the worst was to happen and a family was torn apart. Business attorneys faced harried calls from Human Resources staff trying to figure out which if any of the presidential orders affected their current or future employees and how to address any gaps.
The first few weeks were challenging to talk to our clients and provide solid legal advice on what to expect in the coming weeks and months. The line between the practice of law and social work was never more blurry than these first few weeks, as we struggled to sort fact from alternative fact, rumor from actual Executive Order, and peer into the crystal ball to make sense of it all.
Government officials hold our clients’ lives and livelihoods in their hands. What will they do? How will the orders be implemented? What does a particular phrase in a memo mean? While our strength as an organization has always been the breadth of knowledge that our members have, and we continue to ask each other for advice, insight, and ideas, there is an opportunity coming up that could offer a look into the government-side of things.
On April 7, AILA will hold its Spring Conference in Washington, D.C., The conference will be a special opportunity to hear from the different agencies as to how the new Administration plans to implement the Trump agenda. Even more basic, we hope to hear exactly what the Trump agenda will be. During the 2016 campaign, Candidate Trump ran on his boast to build a wall, deport all the “bad hombres,” and protect American workers from foreign labor. Like health care, however, we anticipate that President Trump is going to learn that immigration law is complex. As the agencies and the public, including the immigration bar, settle into the new order, the Spring Conference will be an opportunity to see how and where the rubber will meet the road.
This is a two-way street though. The diligent AILA member has also noticed a steady call for questions for the different liaison committees to craft an agenda for each panel at the conference to identify issues of concern to our clients, and take full use of the opportunity to discuss the issues with the agency officials. This year, the conference planning committee has revived the interagency panel, an opportunity to discuss issues that cross agency jurisdiction.
One of my personal favorite moments from a past spring conference was several years ago when we asked Steve Fischel from the State Department and Bill Yates from Legacy INS how the government was counting H-2B admissions. They looked at each other, each announced they had no idea, and AILA members and the government learned at the same time that nobody was counting H-2B admissions. Maybe not as dramatic as when Faye Dunaway announced that La La Land won the Oscar for Best Picture, but still a moment to remember.
In addition to the importance of learning from and sharing information with the agencies, I can’t let an opportunity pass to urge you to join us the day before too – come to DC on April 6 as advocates for fair and just immigration laws through AILA’s National Day of Action. Join colleagues in meetings with your senators and representatives and demand that Congress enact badly needed immigration reform.
We know the impact that immigration laws have on our communities and the elected officials on Capitol Hill need to hear from us. Share the stories of families and businesses impacted by the Executive Orders or by the immigration laws on the books. Share information and offer yourself as a resource as they confront the complicated but necessary task of reforming our immigration laws to bring them into the 21st century. Bring a client if you can, someone who exemplifies the positive contributions immigrants have made and continue to make to the U.S. and the danger in taking those contributions for granted in an era of fearmongering and hateful rhetoric.
Join us in Washington on April 6 and 7 and become part of the critical conversation with the new Administration as the details of the Trump immigration policy are implemented and Congress is pushed to do its job and update our immigration laws.
Written by Rob Cohen, Chair, AILA Spring Conference Committee