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  • Article: AILA's Board of Governors - An Affront to the Eunuch Community by Kenneth Rinzler

    AILA's Board of Governors - An Affront to the Eunuch Community
    (My Comments on the "Send A Past President to Panama" Tour)

    by Kenneth Rinzler

    As readers to ILW.COM know by now, I don’t have much good to say about AILA; its lack of transparency, its incestuousness, its advocacy positions. (And in the interest of transparency, the reader should know that the author is running for the position of Treasurer of AILA in the upcoming June election.) Much of this could be overlooked, however, were it not for its latest insult: next week’s Board of Governors” meeting in Panama City, Panama, the second consecutive meeting of the BOG overseas where AILA is squandering not only its members’ dues and abusing its Federal not for profit tax status, but ensuring that only the wealthiest members can afford to attend this meeting of AILA’s governing body, the largest collection of living eunuchs outside of India.

    AILA (American Immigration Lawyers Association) is ostensibly governed by a Board of Governors (BOG). As explained on AILA’s website, the duties of the BOG are specified in the bylaws as follows:

    • Determine the policies of the Association and carry on all the business thereof
    • Serve as the appellate body to hear charges brought against chapter members
    • Supervise the election of officers and directors, fill officer and director vacancies

    while the traditional responsibilities of the BOG are listed as:

    • Approve the Annual Plan and Budget
    • Represent the members of AILA
    • Understand the issues facing AILA
    • Provide financial oversight
    • Construe the bylaws and Association policies
    • Satisfy member needs
    • Set annual goals and monitor accomplishments
    • Provide leadership by explanation and example

    Again as stated on the website, the BOG is comprised of the elected national officers (6 members), 21 elected at-large directors, the chairs of the 36 chapters, a representative of the New Members Division appointed by the president, and – my personal favorite – all living past presidents (for some reason dead past presidents are apparently ineligible to serve), which adds another 15 members, for a total of 79 BOG members if my math is correct. (I must be careful here, for if I make any error – no matter how trivial or inadvertent — the Executive Director of AILA, Crystal Williams, is likely to say that I am imagining things, to put it charitably.)

    Next Friday, January 25, the BOG will be holding its quarterly meeting in Panama City, Panama. The last quarterly meeting in September 2012 was held in Montreal, Canada. Apparently there is a shortage of hotel rooms and cheap airfares in America, so the BOG finds it more expedient to hold many of its meetings – especially its midyear meeting every cold January – in a more convenient location, especially one in a tropical climate. (The January 2012 meeting was held in Costa Rica, while the 2011 and 2010 meetings were held in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I can go on, but I assume the reader has started to see the pattern.) And I say more convenient because of the attendance numbers; while AILA’s annual meeting is normally in the 3,000+ range, the last confirmed attendance figure for the BOG “Send A Past President to Panama” Tour was – wait for it— a whopping 63 pre-registered. (Statement of Crystal Williams to the membership, Jan. 3, 2013, in response to a member’s inquiry.)

    In preparation for this quarterly meeting, where AILA’s governing body is supposed to debate and decide upon the many key issues affecting our future and which is scheduled months in advance, one would think an agenda would be published weeks ahead of time so that the membership in general, and the BOG members in particular, could be informed as to what issues are to be discussed and decided, and how they may wish to instruct their representatives to vote. One might think it, but one would be wrong.

    But before I continue with the agenda issue, perhaps I should enlighten our readers with the CLE (continuing legal education) day-long conference which occurs the day before the BOG meeting at the same luxury resort (the Intercontinental Playa Bonita Resort and Spa, because we wouldn’t want our BOG to be held at a cheaper facility; it just wouldn’t be right). There will be eight panels with two presenters each, so a total of 16 presenters. And although AILA is proud of boasting that it now has 12,000 members, the leadership (technically the conference program committee, but in an incredible bit of luck the chair of the committee is a Past President!) decided that 11 of those 16 presenters had to be Past Presidents of AILA. Out of 12,000 attorneys, AILA found it necessary to not only select the same presenters it does all the time, but Past Presidents to boot, because they don’t get enough exposure and benefits from being able to say on their resume “I presented at such and such AILA conference”. So in view of the overweighted presence of past presidents at the CLE conference/BOG meeting, I think it’s only fair to give this boondoggle the title it deserves: “Send A Past President to Panama Tour.”

    So acting upon this growing belief amongst the membership that the agenda should be published and widely distributed, the author asked the Executive Director of AILA for a copy. The following email string shows how this request – like all requests to AILA for public information that the membership is entitled to – was treated:

    From: Kenneth Rinzler [mailto:kenneth@rinzler.com]
    Sent: Wednesday, January 09, 2013 2:01 PM
    To: Crystal Williams
    Subject: BOG January Meeting

    Dear Crystal:

    Could you please provide the time and place (the hotel I assume) of the Jan 26 BOG meeting? It’s not listed on the conference program

    Thank you.

    Yours,

    Kenneth Rinzler

    From: Crystal Williams [mailto:CWilliams@aila.org]
    Sent: Wednesday, January 09, 2013 3:05 PM
    To: kenneth@rinzler.com
    Subject: RE: BOG January Meeting

    It’s at the conference hotel, Intercontinental Playa Bonita Resort, 10:00-3:30 (though it’s likely to run to 4:30).

    Crystal Williams

    Executive Director

    American Immigration Lawyers Association

    From: Kenneth Rinzler [mailto:kenneth@rinzler.com]
    Sent: Friday, January 11, 2013 3:07 AM
    To: Crystal Williams
    Subject: RE: BOG January Meeting

    Thank you.

    By the way, has an official agenda for the BOG meeting been announced yet? Can we see a copy?

    Yours,

    Kenneth Rinzler

    From: Crystal Williams [mailto:CWilliams@aila.org]
    Sent: Friday, January 11, 2013 10:23 AM
    To: kenneth@rinzler.com
    Subject: RE: BOG January Meeting

    It should be finished by Monday or Tuesday. I can send you a copy then. If you don’t get it by noon Tuesday, please send me a reminder.

    Crystal Williams

    Executive Director

    From: Kenneth Rinzler [mailto:kenneth@rinzler.com]
    Sent: Friday, January 11, 2013 10:28 AM
    To: Crystal Williams
    Subject: RE: BOG January Meeting

    That would be great. Thank you.

    I would suggest you post it on the “Just Posted” on InfoNet, as it may be of interest to many members. I’m happy to put it on the MC, but the other seems to make more sense.

    Yours,

    Kenneth Rinzler

    From: Crystal Williams [mailto:CWilliams@aila.org]
    Sent: Friday, January 11, 2013 10:29 AM
    To: kenneth@rinzler.com
    Subject: RE: BOG January Meeting

    Our practice in the past has been to let the chapter chairs disseminate it locally, the idea being to stimulate discussion within the chapter. But I notice that not all chapter do so, and that decision was made several chapter chair groups ago—I doubt anyone in the current group was part of the original decisionmaking. Let me check and see where they are with this now.

    Crystal Williams

    Executive Director

    To which I sent my final reply a few minutes later:

    Then don’t worry about it. Just please send it to me as planned and I will post it.

    Yours,

    Kenneth Rinzler

    After I publicized this email string a colleague from Texas wrote the following:

    “The emails that the chapters send out includes so much FYI that this important info could easily be overlooked. Of course it should be posted on AILA MC [Message Center], so the people who are dues paying members can review it. Isn’t that what they are paid to do? Post the info under the appropriate heading, so the members can review what important to them?

    So, in the chapters that don’t disseminate the info, those AILA members are just sh– outta luck?? How do they know they didn’t receive the info, since….they didn’t receive the info? Leaves people in the dark if they don’t know what is or isn’t being kept from them. Oh wait….maybe that’s the purpose.
    Incredible.”

    In short, it was the classic AILA hustle. This is the way we’ve always done it, no one has ever complained before.

    Then, on Saturday, Jan. 12, Crystal Wiliams advised the membership of this additional reason for delay:

    “We will be posting the agenda. See, was it really that hard to wait 24 hours til I could get a chance to contact people? Not “research.” Just “courtesy.”

    We also will be posting the backup materials–a key part of the question I needed answered. The agenda would not be very informative without them. Some parts of the backup may for future meetings need to be withheld if they contain sensitive information, but that doesn’t happen very often and at the moment I don’t foresee it for this upcoming meeting.”

    Finally, yesterday (Wednesday) afternoon, the agenda was published, and there was absolutely nothing in it that could not have been made public weeks ago. (A copy of the actual agenda is attached as a pdf file to this article.) I thus sent my colleagues the following comments:

    On Saturday, Jan 12th, at 2:43 PM Crystal posted:

    We will be posting the agenda. See, was it really that hard to wait 24 hours til I could get a chance to contact people? Not “research.” Just “courtesy.
    We also will be posting the backup materials–a key part of the question I needed answered. The agenda would not be very informative without them. Some parts of the backup may for future meetings need to be withheld if they contain sensitive information, but that doesn’t happen very often and at the moment I don’t foresee it for this upcoming meeting.”

    Well now the agenda’s been posted, and forgive me if I don’t find it “very informative”. Let’s look at it, item by item.

    1. Remarks of the President. OK, that’s self-explanatory.

    2. National Office Update By CW. Again, fairly self-explanatory, although it might be nice to have some idea of what it might cover. Staffing and compensation issues? Budgetary issues? Advocacy issues? Membership surveys? Strategic objectives? All of the above? Not overly important, but some flavor would be nice, especially when viewed in context of everything else on the agenda.

    3. AIC Report. I guess it’s just me that AIC, which is so proud of its alleged independence from AILA, is presenting at our BOG meeting. Might this have anything to do with the opt-out on the dues statement and related funding issues?

    4. Decision Items. As Shakespeare would say, “Aye, there’s the rub”. Let’s examine them one by one.

    A. Resolution Naming Someone an Honorary Member. Again, self-explanatory.

    B. Resolution Regarding Allocation of 2012 Net Revenues. Now that’s a bit of a “what the hell?” description. Not a budget, just revenues. And not just revenues, but net revenues. And as the year is over, does this mean a change from what was previously agreed upon? Would it kill the leadership to give a brief description — in fact, ANY description — of what this resolution is about, or what it would do? Is there a law against publishing the text of this proposed resolution before the actual meeting? Why can’t we see it? Why can’t we discuss it? And my God, please don’t say “no one’s ever asked for it before” or “we’ve never done it that way before”. Those excuses have now long been discredited.

    C. 2013 Annual Plan and Budget. Again, nothing presented. Why can’t the membership see the proposed plan and budget, just like as is done in any legislature in any democracy? What’s the secret? Why must we wait until after the BOG meeting? There shouldn’t be any classified information in it, so what’s the excuse this time?

    D. Resolution to Revise Financial Rules. Another WTF moment. What is that about? Which rules, and how are they to be revised? Seriously, that’s all we’re getting? For all we know it’s a rule to give automatic salary increases to the staff.

    E. Resolution re Suspension of Members for Non-payment of Dues. This is something which affects the entire membership, but we’re not entitled to know about it? And if it involves individual members, rather than an across the board rules change, then why are names given to the entire BOG?

    F. Resolution to Approve New York Chapter Bylaws.
    G. Resolution to Approve Philadelphia Chapter Bylaws. Are these new chapters, or are their bylaws simply being amended? Any reason why the membership, and even the BOG, can’t see the text ahead of time, rather than being asked to vote on the spot?

    H. Announcing Vote Totals for AILA Elections. I gather this debate is about announcing the individual vote totals. I also gather it’s a debate, and not a proposed resolution, because there is no mention of the word resolution. Can we have some clarification, as this has been a controversial issue for some time?

    I. Selection of 2013 Nominating Committee. Self-explanatory, although obviously the names have been selected already.

    Now here’s a fun fact I bet most of you have overlooked. All nine of the above “Decision Items” are to be debated and voted upon within a 75 minute period. That’s right, an average of eight and 1/3 minutes for each item. Some of the most important debates AILA will ever have, and they are given eight minutes each. Do you really think there will be a full and fair discussion, covering all points of view? I don’t, especially since theoretically no one will even see the text of some of these until at the meeting. Unless, of course, the leadership gives it to the BOG in advance, as another blow against transparency and ensuring that the fix is in.

    Let’s continue…

    5. Consent Agenda. This includes an attempted repair of the cluster-f which were the minutes at the last annual meeting. Another fiasco.

    6. Advocacy Priorities in the New Congress. This topic is given a whopping 2 hours and 35 minutes of time, more than that for all of the “Decision Items”. That is not only ridiculous, but as usual is being decided without ANY input from the general membership. Once, just once, maybe the membership should be polled as to what we want those who purport to speak in our names to say.

    7. New Business. Ten minutes.

    So if anyone doesn’t believe this is a charade, and that once again information is being unjustly withheld from us, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.
    And if some of these questions are supposed to be addressed in these magical “backup materials”, then where the hell are they?

    So my dear ILW.COM Reader, I have just presented the latest in a series of articles documenting how AILA lives by a “do as I say, not as I do” philosophy. AILA is so fond of criticizing the government for secrecy, for inane rules, policies, and procedures, yet it is a master of secrecy, deception, and chicanery. We are an organization governed by an elite, looking out primarily for themselves, and have a Board of Governors who abdicates its duty to govern. There should be neither credibility nor respect given to a members’ funded organization which exhibits such hypocrisy when it comes to openness and transparency.


    About The Author

    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 do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.
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