Working Together as Change Agents

In these times of uncertainty, at least one thing is clear: We have long been struggling with a detention and deportation system that frustrates due process at nearly every turn. All across the United States, immigration attorneys have for years been banging their heads against what often felt like an impenetrable wall. But the good news is that we are building an arsenal to fight back. As a result of the close partnership between AILA and the American Immigration Council, outside funding has been gathered to support the creation of the Immigration Justice Campaign. Under the umbrella of the Justice Campaign, together we will restore due process to our immigration system.

For more than 70 years, AILA members have led the fight to expand due process and improve the quality of immigration law practice. In these challenging times, AILA members must continue to lead, because more than anyone, we understand what is at stake. As a component of the Justice Campaign, we are investing heavily in training AILA members in foundational trial advocacy and litigation skills so that we are equipped to challenge the dysfunction and disregard for due process in the system. Self-reported data indicates that less than a quarter of AILA members include litigation as a part of their practice. We need more tools in our toolbox to face the expanding deportation machine. Building up the training available to AILA members to be better and stronger defenders of clients’ rights is a central pillar of the Justice Campaign.

But we don’t have to do it alone. We can increase our power to alter the way the government does the detention and deportation business by broadening and deepening the movement. Witnessing the uphill battle that AILA lawyers fight every day just to talk to – or sometimes find – their detained clients would bewilder the civil litigators and criminal defense attorneys who stand ready to be our pro bono partners. But they want to join in the fight. Lawyers across all practice areas saw what AILA members were able to accomplish in response to the first travel ban last year and how we stood up for the Constitution and our nation’s principles. They are outraged and want to help. As we saw with our family detention work, outrage is a powerful motivator for volunteerism from lawyers outside the immigration bar where bankruptcy lawyers worked alongside experienced removal defense attorneys, lending their knowledge and presence to a fight bigger than the immigration bar.  Our movement can accomplish so much more if we have a broader array of voices carrying the message and volunteering. Success would bring positive systemic changes for all.

We are looking to seasoned removal defense lawyers to be our brain trust in identifying the critical skills and strategies that AILA lawyers most need in this moment. For example, we are partnering with the AILA Texas-Oklahoma-New Mexico chapter, which has a core team of strong removal defense experts, to pilot all-day workshops on aggressive lawyering strategies. These strategies are also highlighted in resources provided free of charge to AILA lawyers, like a five-part series on habeas corpus, a series of videos by retired immigration judges on fearless lawyering, and a webinar on the ins and outs of bond hearings. We need to challenge ourselves to set a new standard for immigration practice in this era.

AILA members who are in the trenches practicing removal defense for detained clients every day know better than anyone how heavy a pro bono load the membership has been carrying for years. But still only 14 percent of detained immigrants are represented, and ICE is rapidly increasing its detention capacity, contracting for new bed space in new places often far from available attorneys, in an effort to increase detention levels. At the same time, law firms big and small are clamoring to invest resources and time into pro bono removal defense work for the detained population – something that is unprecedented. This presents a tremendous opportunity not only to expand our business relationships with these firms but also to have talented lawyers from other fields join our fight.

We need our experts to help develop new strategies to mentor and support pro bono lawyers who are new to this work – not to teach them everything about immigration law (impossible!), but rather to help them do one particular type of case, or perhaps even one part of one case, and encourage them to repeat that volunteer work. When done right, mentorship is often a time-consuming endeavor, and time above all other things is in short supply. Based on member feedback, we are designing new strategies to free up AILA mentors to practice to the highest and best use of their license while at the same time better supporting mentees.

Innovative training and mentorship models will allow us to meaningfully expand the capacity of strong local partners in Aurora, Colorado, Lumpkin, Georgia, Youngstown, Ohio and beyond, not only to place more cases but to identify enforcement trends that we would not otherwise see and, with our help, test strategies to challenge them. This pilot work in a few strategic locations will then add fuel to our ability to bring systemic litigation and broad-based advocacy to bear.

This week, the Justice Campaign launched a new, interactive website offering volunteers legal resources, information on the latest training opportunities, ways to volunteer, and an online forum for our community of volunteers to interact with each other, ask questions, and offer support. Check out the website, and register with the Justice Campaign to receive tailored information about trainings, pro bono opportunities, and other important resources.

This is our moment. This is our battle. We have the resources, we have the skills, and we have the calling – to protect the rights of immigrants who are in danger of being deported. We must continue to lead the fight, with new allies to help win the battles. Join us!

by Annaluisa Padilla