Stand Up and Be an Advocate: Your Talent and Expertise Can Effect Meaningful Change

11/8/17 DACA

Immigration attorneys stand up for immigrants every day. But, our talent and expertise is typically channeled into advocating for our clients before the federal administrative agencies or immigration courts. To serve our clients well, we focus on understanding the latest developments in United States immigration law and policy, developing strong legal arguments, conducting legal research, drafting petitions or briefs, and gathering evidence to support our clients’ claims.

We stay current on the uptick in requests for evidence (RFEs) on H-1B petitions, in-person interviews for certain permanent residency applicants,  and the news that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will no longer give deference to prior approvals when adjudicating extension petitions. Not to mention, the endless policy announcements by the administration restricting travelers and refugees to the U.S., in particular from certain Muslim-majority countries. Staying informed feels like a full-time job in itself. But by being informed, and knowing our clients as we do, we are in a unique position to channel our talents and expertise into civic action, to push back against the administration’s harmful immigration policies and lift up the contributions immigrants bring to America.

At the local level, many of us are already actively involved in civic engagement. We vote, we volunteer our time for a political campaign, or even aspire to run for political office. Those are all crucial. But there is another important form of civic engagement, often overlooked, which allows us to leverage our skills and expertise in U.S. immigration law to effect meaningful change. It is a concept known as “citizen lobbying.”

Alberto Alemanno, a legal scholar, author, and public interest lawyer defined citizen lobbying as “lobbying by the citizens for the citizens,” during a TEDx talk entitled “Citizen Lobbying: How Your Skills Can Fix Democracy.” Citizen lobbying encompasses the ability of us, as members of our communities, to exercise pressure on our elected representatives through a variety of methods. We can call on our representatives to speak out against harmful immigration policy proposals, mobilize networks and use social media to hold our representatives accountable for their political actions, or even start a petition for a cause for which we care deeply. For us as immigration attorneys, citizen lobbying is about tapping into our collective expertise and taking meaningful action.

Lobbying isn’t something limited to just large corporations, trade groups, and associations. We can educate members of Congress on how the U.S. immigration system actually works, highlight the impact that a particular proposed bill or policy change will have on the immigration system, and make recommendations for much needed legislative or policy reforms. In effect, citizen lobbying allows us to fill the information gap between our elected officials and their constituents. We know this issue and can shape the dialogue with our representatives beyond just political buzzwords. We can shine a spotlight on the immigration issues that are most important to us as citizens, as voters, and as AILA members.

Taking action doesn’t take a huge amount of time either. Next week during AILA’s Week of Action, AILA will be engaging in our “AILA Stands with Dreamers” campaign. The objective of the campaign is to ensure Congress hears the urgent need for a bipartisan, bicameral Dream Act and also understands the White House’s harmful immigration principles are not the answer. Over the past few months, AILA, our members, other advocacy groups, and the public have been fighting for Dreamers. During this week of action, our focus is on telling Members of Congress loudly and clearly that it’s time to pass the Dream Act.

The “AILA Stands with Dreamers” campaign consists of several public engagement activities, including in-district congressional office visits, calls to members of Congress, press and media work, and even a tweetstorm. AILA members can participate in this campaign in a number of ways:

  • Register to attend in-district meetings with your members of Congress on November 14, 2017
  • Sign up to participate in the tweetstorm from 3:00pm – 5:00pm (EST) on November 14, 2017, then tweet using the hashtag #AILAStandsWithDreamers during that time
  • Call your U.S. Senators or Representatives on November 15, 2017
  • Pledge to submit a letter to the editor or op-ed to your local newspaper on November 16, 2017

These are just some of the ways citizen lobbyists can engage with Congress to effect change. And this is the time. Now more than ever it is critical that we collectively harness our unique expertise as immigration lawyers to protect our immigration system against harmful policies, to champion the rights of immigrants, and to promote the value of immigrants to our local and national economies, as well as to the shared prosperity of our nation as a whole. Through our experience working in the field of immigration law and navigating the complexities of the immigration system for our clients, immigration attorneys are uniquely placed and qualified to speak about these issues in the public sphere. Through our individual and collective efforts and by showing Congress that #AILAStandsWithDreamers, we can effect meaningful change, as citizen lobbyists, one immigration attorney at a time.

by Diane Rish