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Recommended Changes to Make AILA More Transparent and Effective

by Kenneth Rinzler

Anyone who has followed the debate about how AILA operates cannot help but think "there must be a better way". A review of both AILA's tax returns over the years (and AILA's lack of making the information contained therein freely available to the membership), and its questionable policies in so many areas (staff compensation, insider transactions, excessive travel costs, etc.) highlight the need for AILA to undertake a comprehensive review of how it operates and to make a concerted effort to be more transparent and responsive to its membership. The tired old responses of run for office, you don't need to know that information, or this is how it's always been done simply won't suffice anymore, especially in light of the fact that AILA is probably risking an investigation by the IRS of its tax exempt status or, at the very least, is sacrificing its credibility with Capitol Hill and the general public on the altar of secrecy and apparent favoritism.

With the above in mind, I offer the following simple recommendations to improve AILA's perception by its members (its most important constituency) and the world at large:

      1. From now on, post its tax returns on the AILA website, and in a timely fashion. Stop relying upon third parties, and stop hoping that the membership won't pay attention. Those days are gone.

      2. Post the chapters' financial information as well. The national organization has this information readily at its disposal, the members are forced to belong to their local chapter (and thus financially support them as well) anyway, and a comparison of how some of the chapters deal with different financial and policy issues would benefit the organization as a whole.

      3. Post the senior staff compensation information on the website. Not only will some of this be contained in the income tax return anyway (although we have seen that omissions continue to be made), but again this is a members' funded organization and we have a right to know where our money is going. If one can safely assume that the average annual income of an AILA member is less than $100,000, why is it so outrageous to think that those same members might want to know who is earning more than that at the association they financially support, especially when we've seen some of the unconscionable raises which have been granted over the years. Privacy concerns do not trump this, for just as with the H-1B LCA posting requirement, how will we know if our money is being properly spent without the facts?

      4. Eliminate all overseas meetings and conferences. There is no reason whatsoever why our hard-earned dues monies are being spent for meetings in places like Mexico, Costa Rica, or wherever. AILA's travel budget is ridiculous, especially when we are paying for an expensive headquarters building, and there are tax and perception implications as well. These mid-winter conferences in the tropics have got to go.

      5. Eliminate or greatly reduce insider transactions, and have all future ones brought to the attention of the general membership for input before possible acceptance. The ones I have highlighted over the past few months may have been technically legal, but they sure don't pass the smell test. Again, perception counts. AILA has no serious conflict of interests policy as it's the same select group of people who ever get to pass on these things.

      6. Nominate more than one candidate for each office. Hiding behind the petition procedure is disingenuous. There's a reason the political parties in America have primaries. Give the membership a choice of candidates without having to have them jump through hoops.

      7. Acknowledge that advocacy has become an overriding concern of the organization, and consider ways of recognizing the views of members who feel that purely political issues such as amnesty (whether stand-alone or as part of CIR) should not be presented to the outside world as representing the views of all 11,000 members, nor mandatorily funded by same.
I don't pretend that this is an exhaustive list, but it is certainly a good start. And there is nothing to prevent AILA from implementing some, if not all, of these recommendations immediately. The by-laws don't prevent the adoption of good governance policies, of transparency, of going beyond the minimum of what is required by the law. All it takes is a willingness to recognize that the time has come for a change.

About The Author

Kenneth Rinzler is an immigration lawyer in Washington, DC, and a frequent visitor to consular posts, having now traveled to 40 countries. A graduate of Georgetown University and Seton Hall University School of Law, he is a member of the District of Columbia, Indiana, New Jersey, and U.S. Supreme Court Bars. In addition to authoring articles for the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), he has written on immigration law for the German American Chamber of Commerce. Before specializing in immigration law, he spent nearly ten years working as a legislative assistant and counsel to a U.S. Congressman, and thus has an intimate knowledge of Federal legislative and administrative procedures

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.