AILA - Stop Pretending
AILA likes to complain about our "broken immigration system" and says we need comprehensive immigration reform (CIR). As a member approaching his twentieth anniversary on August 3, I submit that AILA is as broken as the system it rails against, and just as desperately needs comprehensive reform.
Some of the abuses engaged in by AILA have already been extensively documented: filing inaccurate tax returns, promoting questionable insider loan deals, nominating only one candidate per office for "elections" and not announcing individual vote total results, funneling huge amounts of members' dues to advocacy efforts for amnesty without polling the members on their wishes, etc. The typical response has been the same as exhibited by any large organization under attack: deflect, deny, excuse, and - most pointedly - try to discredit the messenger. It's been this way in the world forever and I don't expect it to change. From the Catholic Church to Wall Street banks to foreign dictatorships, this is the inherent nature of how organizations and people react when they feel their power and influence is threatened, or their credibility and respectability at risk.
In response to my (and others') attempts to expose and repair some of the deficiencies in AILA and its operations, there have been the usual suggestions, coupled with some truly repulsive ad hominem attacks. I will use this opportunity to address (not for the first time) some of the usual suggestions, as well as illustrate the continuing hypocrisy of the leadership of AILA in not addressing the attacks. The repetitiveness and futility of the suggestions offered show how out of touch the leadership is, while the failure to condemn an attack which suggested I engaged in criminal behavior is not only deplorable, it's pitiful.
We'll start with the suggestions, all of which can be distilled into one phrase: "get involved". The leadership loves to suggest things such as join a committee, get involved in your local chapter, attend a Board of Governors meeting, send a letter to the ExCom, etc. What a bunch of hokey. Advancement in AILA is as dependent upon popularity and holding the "correct" political views as anything else, and certainly challenges competence as a requirement; it's like high school redux. You can have the best credentials in the world and volunteer until you're the last one standing, but if the captain of the team doesn't want you, it's not going to happen.
Over the years I have tried volunteering for various things in the two chapters to which I belong and for some national efforts, and was never selected, primarily because of my - how can I put this delicately - "difficult personality", and less so because of my non-AILA consensus views on many AILA issues. (Yes, I am a volunteer mentor for many years, and also until the stop of its publication I wrote articles about German posts for the Visa Processing Guide, but those were relatively neutral tasks.) I was never given that as the official reason of course; no, it was more of the Catch 22 thing where we can't give you the position until you have more AILA experience (I had plenty of experience in the substantive area in question, but that didn't count), but of course one couldn't get more AILA experience without the appointment. And yet, for some more traditional AILA-position supportive members, and especially for those members who recently retired from the Foreign Service (regardless of their views), there were appointments aplenty, whether on liaison committees, as chapter officials, or conference presenters. Now I understand this, can agree with it in some instances, and would have no problem with it at all if it were admitted to be the case, but it never is.
I used to attend the annual conferences, but unless I have a compelling CLE deficiency I no longer do. They are ridiculously over-priced, with the same "cutting-edge" (does AILA uses a Charles Dickens payment scheme where someone gets a nickel every time that tired phrase gets used in an AILA publication or press release?) topics and favored speakers saying the same things, while the Board of Governors meetings are a good show but don't change anyone's mind and the ExCom calls the shots anyway, not to mention that the relevant minutes aren't published until weeks, if not months, later. I can't list all the times I walked out of an annual conference session thinking how useless it was, how I knew as much as if not more than the speakers (who were often on the panel for five years in a row, and spent the first half of every session introducing each other and singing their praises, rather than actually presenting), and rueing the fact that the post session give-and-takes had been either cut down or eliminated. But I digress.
As I have stated many times before, why must the ways a member can contribute be limited? Why isn't the time and effort I and other members spend communicating with our colleagues on the Message Center, on ILW.COM, and in other forums not considered either acceptable or significant? Just because we don't want to use AILA leadership "approved" methods, they don't count? Because we are trying to be innovative, and effective, and use alternative means, our voices should be ignored? No. In this, as with authoritarian governments and large corporations who upset their customers, the leadership will just have to accept 21st century technology.
It's amusing (and sad) to me when some colleagues complained about my postings here on ILW.COM. I must assume that the only reason they are upset is because I used a respected publication which has an influential readership numbering beyond AILA's wildest hopes, and not restricted to just AILA members. As I have written many times before, AILA has traditionally treated the government as the enemy, complaining about their alleged insensitivity and incompetence (until they retire and join AILA, and then they can't be put on the AILA preferred list fast enough), and refusing them access to regular AILA membership and the Message Center. ILW is more open minded and doesn't have such restrictions. (And for the record and because it's a legitimate question, no, I have no connection with ILW.COM or its owners, financial or otherwise, and was not solicited or compensated to write this or any other article which I have ever submitted to them.)
Now I'd like to address the personal nature of both my writings and, in particular, some of the responses they have generated.
I have singled out and complained about various individuals in AILA, both officers and staff, and make no bones about it. I think the way Finance Director Susan Quarles signed inaccurate tax returns year after year apparently without reading them is atrocious and deserves condemnation, especially since she has yet to publicly acknowledge it. I think the fact that Executive Director Crystal Williams received a 27% raise in one year in the midst of the financial crisis and now earns more than the Vice President of the United States is simply wrong, especially in a not for profit which cries poverty and had to borrow money from its prior Executive Director and other insiders in a disgusting secret deal. I think that the newly "elected" President, Laura Lichter, appointing recent past President David Leopold as General Counsel, so that he must give advice on issues in which he was directly involved as a member of the ExCom for many years is an unnecessary and obvious potential conflict of interest. I think that our new Secretary, Annaluisa Padilla, who was virtually forced upon us and was not apparently a full-time immigration attorney and who apparently never once posted on the Message Center, can blog under AILA's imprimatur about President Obama's recently announced deferred action plan and not get the most basic and controversial fact about it correct (she says that applicants must have "no criminal history", and this when AILA can't shut up about how no one knows yet the details of what constitutes a "significant misdemeanor", etc.) is beyond comprehension. I think that the devotion to secrecy exhibited by AILA's leadership, from getting its tax returns and compensation information made available to members to playing games with the bylaws, is not what anyone would call "best practices". So yes, I have named names, for specific and justifiable reasons, and - purely by coincidence - most of them have been female.
But imagine my surprise and complete disgust when I read the following June 21 Message Center posting by Anthony Weigel, an AILA member from Missouri, which not one member of the AILA leadership (nor any other female member of AILA) would condemn, despite its virtually accusing me of criminal behavior and making light of a serious problem in today's world:
"You failed to mention the part of my post that included a reference to the fact that Ken Rinzler has raised valid points and issues. Bruce has too. My complaint has been with the scorched earth manner in which those points and issues have been advanced. What has been done from behind the keyboard, from my perspective, has been a stream of harrassment [sic] of individuals, primarily women, that would be viewed much differently if done in public. Could you imagine a man following a woman around the Annual Conference day after day constantly repeating some of the statements that have been posted here or on ILW.com?"
Later that same day I sent the following as part of my response to Mr. Weigel:
"Trying to imply that my posts equate to sexual harassment is amazing, especially for someone with all of that "military leadership" behind him. And as all of my posts are, by definition, public, how you can moronically claim that they would be viewed differently "if done in public" is, again, a demonstration of your serious deficiency in basic English. I sign everything I post, the fact that the immediate Past President, the Executive Director, and the Finance Director of AILA all happen to be women is irrelevant to anything I have ever written other than the fact that they comprise a big part of the AILA leadership that I critique, and to morph my posts into "a man following a woman around the Annual Conference day after day" -- without the remotest hint of sarcasm or humor - shows that not only do you not understand what true sexual harassment is, but fail at character assassination as well."
Now dear ILW.COM reader, please understand: I am not as upset by what Mr. Weigel posted as I am by the lack of condemnation from the leadership of AILA on the nature of his attack. But to be upset by its absence I would first have to be surprised by it, and in that I sadly am not.
People like to say that my writings about AILA show that I am an angry man. That is true. I am angry about the incompetence, the duplicity, the favoritism, the hypocrisy, of this organization. Like Mr. Weigel, it claims a piety it has not earned. There have now been thousands of reviews of the AILA Governance related postings on the Message Center, and who knows how many here on ILW.COM, and yet the leadership likes to pretend that we are only an incredibly small vocal minority, rabble-rousers if you will, or - my favorite term, used by many - "dissidents". I am honored by being called a dissident. They have a long and honorable history.
Let the struggle for better governance continue. I have now spent twenty years trying to make AILA a better organization, and it's only in the past year that I have finally discovered how to do it. It would be nice to do it with the leadership, rather than without, but that's a choice only they can make. They need to stop pretending that shooting the messenger solves the problem. They've got my number, and the beer's on me.
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 are those of the author(s) alone and should not be imputed to ILW.COM.