Nathan T. Notkin – “Dean of Immigration Law”

Written by Carlina Tapia-Ruano, with the assistance of Robert Ahlgren.

Today we say goodbye to one of AILA's oldest, longest and proudest members, Nathan (Nate) T. Notkin. Nate was an exceptional man and the proud father of Deborah Notkin, Past President of AILA.

Nate passed away on March 13, 2012, in Florida, at the age of 94. At the time of his death, he was loved and surrounded by his family, including his wife, Thelma N. Notkin, age 91.

Nate graduated from the University of Illinois and John Marshall Law School in Chicago, Illinois. In 1938, he was admitted to the Illinois State Bar. Nate began his career in immigration law as an employee of the federal government when he was employed as a naturalization examiner with INS. Very soon thereafter he left the federal government and opened a practice in Chicago, where he dedicated himself to representing immigrants of all ethnicities and nationalities. He was a tireless advocate who represented his clients with tenacity and charm. His work has left a lasting mark in our profession, as evident in the cases he argued before the Board of Immigration Appeals and 7th Circuit Court of Appeals decisions from the 1970s to the 1990s.

Everyone who practiced immigration law in Chicago from the 1950s to the 1990s knew Nate. Many of us remember Nate saying that he was called the "Dean of Immigration Law." He was always open and willing to provide advice to any other attorney on the practice of immigration law, and he usually had a story or experience to share to prove the particular point he made.

Nate was a life-long member of AILA. He was instrumental in establishing the AILA Chicago Chapter and was an original charter member. Until the last years of his life, he regularly attended AILA Annual Conferences, as well as many regional and local conferences. He was a dedicated advocate who was always proud of his affiliation with AILA. He encouraged all he met to join AILA if they expected to practice immigration law well.

In 1973, at a conference in New York City (for another organization), Nate encouraged Chicago attorney Robert Ahlgren to become an AILA member. Little did Nate know that Robert Ahlgren would become a future "star" of immigration law in Chicago. In addition, Bob became a chair of the Chicago Chapter and was elected National Board of Governors member for many years.

In 1981, Nate met a young female attorney in Chicago, who reminded him of his daughter. This attorney was Carlina Tapia-Ruano. Soon after meeting her, he did not hesitate to encourage her (some would say insist) to quickly join AILA. Years later, Carlina also became a Chair of the Chicago Chapter and, ultimately, an AILA President.

However, there is little doubt that Nate's proudest AILA moment came in 2005, on the day his daughter, Deborah Notkin, was installed as AILA National President. On that day, Nate sat in the front row, next to Thelma, in the auditorium filled with about a thousand people who came to honor Deborah. As the moment approached when Deborah acknowledged her father's presence and his important role in her life, Nate rose from his seat and spoke. He did not have the use of a microphone or a strong voice. In fact, few in the room could actually hear any of the words he spoke. But, all in the room heard his joy and pride in seeing his daughter's rise to the top of AILA. She made his dreams in AILA come true.

We could not have had a better friend or more devoted member to our practice, our mission, and our association. We are grateful for the life of Nate.

Contributions in Nathan's honor may be made to Vitas Hospice Fund at 5420 NW 33rd Ave., Suite 100, Ft. Lauderdale, Fl. 33309. Chapel Services will be held on Friday, March 16, 2012, at 1:45pm, Star of David Funeral Chapel, 7701 Bailey Rd., North Lauderdale, Florida.

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 12031560.