This blog post is part of a months-long series leading up to the formal celebration of AILA’s 75th year at the upcoming Annual Conference in New York City, June, 2022. In this piece, three AILA members reflect on what they see as AILA’s greatest strengths and the relationships they’ve built during their membership of AILA. Submit your own reflection here: https://75th.thinkimmigration.org/share-your-aila-memories/
“Joining AILA was one of the first things I did upon becoming an immigration attorney at the urging of my firm, who correctly viewed AILA membership as an indispensable part of practicing in immigration law today. I can’t imagine how I would practice without AILA’s liaison updates, practice pointers, impact litigation, and advocacy work to help me navigate the gray areas of the law, to keep my clients informed on the latest trends and practices, and to push to changes to unworkable and/or unlawful policies and practices.
But AILA has always been so much more than a source of information – it is a community of people who come together to support each other and to remind one another that we’re not alone as we strive to represent our clients to the very best of our ability, even in very dark times. Over the years, I have met some of my very closest friends through AILA, including the officiant at my wedding and my Maid of Honor! These life-long connections are irreplaceable in my life and, all on their own, make AILA membership worth investing it. But there are a myriad of professional moments with AILA colleagues too that I will forever treasure. Moments like watching President Obama’s DACA announcement from the White House Rose Garden in June 2012 surrounded by hundreds of my AILA colleagues, tearfully absorbing that momentously good news; the collective pride I felt in January 2017 when so many AILA members raced to U.S. airports to protect and defend the rights of immigrants in the face of Trump’s travel bans; and the vicarious thrill I get every time I hear about an individual ALA member who has successfully challenged an unlawful decision of USCIS in federal court.
That sense of connection is also what drove me to become more involved in AILA and, ultimately, to run for AILA’s national Executive Committee. Because I wanted to protect and preserve everything that makes AILA so special and to help ensure that future members would have the same welcome and embrace that I did into the AILA community. In my view, AILA is a uniquely collegial and supportive space that I couldn’t live without for not just professional reasons but, just as importantly, for personal ones. As AILA enters its 75th year, there is an incredibly proud and productive history to look back on. But I am even more excited as I contemplate what the next 75 years will bring. Happy birthday, AILA!!” – Jennifer Minear, past AILA president
“When I came to the US as an F-1 student for law school, I wanted to do something in corporate, business, or entertainment related law. I actually never wanted to practice immigration. I ended up trying immigration and I remember my first AILA meeting at the Hyatt near Grand Central, and encountering so many diverse and interesting people, I knew this is not only what I wanted to do, but what I had to do. Funnily enough, I have ended up focusing on business and entertainment immigration clients. I have a unique perspective, because I went through all the challenges and sleepless nights like my clients did about their future myself. The AILA community became an integral part of my life, not just in business but with the wonderful friendships I developed. It is like a family, with challenges and we do not always agree on everything, but we are nonetheless family.
I am particularly proud of all the newbies who I have encouraged to get involved and see them ‘grow’ into fantastic lawyers, some have opened their own practices and are thriving. We have had pro bono clinics, and gone to airports and detention centers to represent the most vulnerable clients who might otherwise be forgotten. We have also had amazing social events, like our softball and kickball teams (I mean, it is good that we are all so decent at our day jobs – there will be no AILA Olympic teams any time soon). No other area of law has this sort of camaraderie. In other areas, lawyers are adversarial and do not necessarily share information. We are lucky to have such a rich resource of knowledge and support in each other. The last few years have been particularly hard. I think many immigration lawyers would say they have a little PTSD. It was physically and mentally hard for us all. But being able to lean on each other is an irreplaceable resource and I count myself lucky to be part of this community.” – Neena Dutta, AILA New York Chapter
“In 2010, I was honored by AILA to receive the Edith Lowenstein award. At the award ceremony I said then and reaffirm wholeheartedly today that I owe whatever success I have achieved in my career to this collegial and selfless organization and its members.
Without AILA, I would never have had the courage to move from Detroit to Los Angeles and start my solo practice without a single client, nor would I have been invited to serve as the Southern California Chapter Chair, or elected to the Board of Governors, or to AIC’s Board of Trustees; nor could I have transitioned from boutique to global law firm as an immigration lawyer.
Without AILA and its bountiful opportunities for open exchanges with government officials at annual conferences and liaison meetings, I would never have been emboldened to speak truth to power (respectfully but pointedly), or to blog (constructively yet sardonically) on solutions to our nation’s broken and dysfunctional immigration system.
Most of all, I value the many dear friendships and the countless inspirations that AILA has given me. Whenever I have been down and out, nearing despondency, and outraged, by governmental heartlessness, neglect and misbehavior, I could (and did, often) call on many friends in AILA to lift my spirits and point me to an array of possible strategies.
I understand from the keepers of our history that AILA’s New York formation 75 years ago as the Association of Immigration and Nationality Lawyers was an example of how mostly Jewish and Italian members formed a self-help group of attorneys in the aftermath of a reduction in force of naturalization examiners at the INS. Thus, this tradition of mutual assistance and support continues to this day. None of us is as strong as all of us!” – Angelo Paparelli, AILA Southern California Chapter