Congressional Recess is No Time to Rest


Congress is now in recess, which means that most members of Congress are returning to their districts to reconnect with their constituents. It also means there couldn’t be a better time to let our voices be heard on issues vital to our clients: ensuring that Congress protects Dreamers by supporting the bipartisan Dream Act of 2017 and opposing funding the President’s massive enforcement plans that include wasting $1.6 billion as a down payment on “a beautiful wall.”

And as AILA members and their clients who attended AILA’s 2017 National Day of Action know, after meeting with members of Congress and their aides on both sides of the aisle, there are many members of Congress who do believe, albeit not always for public consumption, that immigration reform is imperative. But, not surprisingly, many do not predict progress on immigration in the near future.

Patriarch Joseph P. Kennedy famously said, “When the going gets tough the tough get going,” an appropriate adage for immigration advocates in these uncertain times.  In sports parlance, this is a building season and we must continue to advocate for our clients. Meet with your representatives and senators at their local offices, and when you’re not doing that, continue to call, email, and tweet at them. If your member of Congress is hosting a town hall this month, bring your colleagues and attend. And if you can’t find a town hall, host your own Congressional briefing and invite them. You can even talk to your representatives and senators through the local paper – write an opinion piece or letter to the editor.

Help with these activities and more is found in an AILA Toolkit specifically designed to make it easier to make our voices heard.

I’ve used AILA’s Advocacy Toolkit to find the resources I need to be an effective advocate. But there are other ways to advocate, too.  An effective strategy for enhanced advocacy I’ve employed in the past, when my state’s Congressional delegation had no members on key committees affecting immigration and when immigration was barely a blip on the media’s radar, and that I still use today, involves courting and empowering Congressional constituent service staffs.

Constituent service staffs, typically based ‘back home’ rather than in Washington, D.C., are rarely the go-to persons for policy analysis, but they are invaluable in other ways.

Back in the day, a single constituent service aide might handle veterans’ affairs, social security questions, passport expedites, scheduling White House tours, and somewhere well down the list, immigration. Often the beleaguered staffer would welcome guidance from immigration attorneys to help with complex inquiries that were above their paygrade.  Today, many offices have staffers whose entire caseload involves immigration and some are very knowledgeable about immigration law.  Regardless of the Congressional member’s stance on immigration legislation, they know it is good politics to help families and business with their immigration issues.

Here’s where enhanced advocacy comes into play and how you can utilize your constituent service aide:

  • Don’t just accept assistance and let the process go to autopilot. Have your client and other interested parties–be it an employer, family member, clergy or close friends write the member of Congress thanking her or him for the assistance and include kudos for the staff member.
  • If the media becomes involved, be sure that appropriate credit is given.
  • If the constituent service aide strikes out, be sure he or she makes the ‘boss’ aware of the human elements of the case and how our broken immigration system has once again failed the public.

Trust me. Advocacy is a powerful tool and we have the resources we need to be powerful advocates. All of us have numerous clients who are the human face of our immigration crisis.  We can use public and local advocacy to not only help our clients, but also help immigration policy. The going may be tough, but we will keep on going.

by John L. Pinnix