So, for the time since I struck out on my own as an attorney, I attended an AILA (American Immigration Lawyers Association) conference. I had avoided it in the past because it was too expensive (about $800.00 for the conference fee alone) and I didn’t think I would get much out of it. Turns out, I really enjoyed the conference–it is fun to meet and hear about people who are doing the same work as you and who speak the same “language,” though invariably I spent most of the time hanging out with people I already knew. Although the fee was pretty steep, I’m glad I went, and maybe I will go again next year if I am feeling flush.
I also had an opportunity to speak on a panel with some very impressive people, including two professors, a USCIS employee, and another private attorney. The subject was the UN Convention Against Torture (“CAT”). More specifically, we talked about how the Torture Convention might apply to non-governmental actors. My role was pretty easy–I presented some hypothetical examples for the audience and the panelists to discuss. Since I am not so creative, my hypos were actual cases that I had litigated. One “hypo” examined whether a woman who feared female genital mutilation in her country could gain relief under the CAT. In real life, I lost that case, though I managed to convince the IJ that FGM was torture. At least one federal court of appeals has found that FGM can constitute torture. See Tunis v. Gonzales, 447 F.3d 547 (7th Cir. 2006). The other case involved an African drug smuggler who feared that corrupt police would kill him to retaliate for his cooperation with the U.S. authorities. That case, I won, as there was strong evidence that he would be murdered if he returned to his home country.
Aside from that panel, there were a number of panels–and some informal meetings–relevant to the asylum practitioner. Two that were directly related to asylum law were a panel on demonstrating harm in asylum applications, and another examining what constitutes a “particular social group.” I thought both panels were helpful, and they featured some of the top people in the field, including speakers from law schools, USCIS, the United Nations, and various human rights groups (shout out to Human Rights First, who was there en mass).
AILA is often perceived as an organization more relevant to business immigration than to asylum or Immigration Court practice. Maybe it was the people I hung out with and met, but there seemed to be a lot of fellow travelers at the conference. The fact is, however, that there is not a whole lot of crossover between business immigration and asylum/deportation defense. One solution might be to have a conference targeted at the more public interest-oriented practitioners, and a second conference for the business practitioner. Although my eyes glaze over at the thought of working on a business immigration case, I must confess that it was nice to attend a conference with all sorts of immigration attorneys. There is certainly something to be said for not becoming over specialized, and the diverse topics at the AILA conference gave us a chance to learn about something new.
Overall, it was a useful and energizing conference. I hope to be back next year.