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  • Article: California, Here I Come: AILA’s Transparency Effort Right Back Where It Started From by Ken Rinzler

    California, Here I Come: AILA’s Transparency Effort Right Back Where It Started From

    by Kenneth Rinzler

    On August 13 AILA carried an announcement by its California chapters (representing roughly 16% of AILA’s membership) that the chapters opposed Assembly Bill 1159, The Immigration Reform Act. In and of itself, that announcement would not be newsworthy. What caught my eye, however, was the following:

    “AILA National with the backing of the AILA California Chapters has retained a Lobbyist to assist us at the California State Capitol by effectively conveying the concerns that our members share in the face of such an onerous bill…

    The Lobbyist that AILA has retained has worked on hundreds of pieces of legislation…As the largest professional association of immigration attorneys, AILA has considered that having a lobbyist on this issue is an important resource to guide our efforts in securing not only the integrity of our practice, but also the effective service and advocacy on behalf of our clients.”

    So although the press release implies that this is a California legislative matter and is being treated as such, the reality is far different. (And, for purposes of this article, I am not taking a position on the legislation itself, but rather only the disingenuous way AILA is presenting its interest in same.)

    Note that it is AILA national which has apparently chosen and, more importantly, is paying this lobbyist. A lobbyist, by the way, whom the release doesn’t even name although it contains the same self-promoting biographical language lifted from his website. Upon inquiring of the national, I was able to learn that the lobbyist is Mr. Ignacio Hernandez of Hernandez Strategy Group of Sacramento, California. (And again, for purposes of this article, the qualifications of Mr. Hernandez are not the issue here.) What the national would not tell me, however, and despite its endless pledges to promote transparency, is what we are paying this person.

    According to an August 13 email from Mr. Robert Deasy, AILA’s Senior Director of Liaison and Information, “the terms of the contract are not public information”. One would think that AILA members, the people footing the bill for his services, are not the public and have a right to know. This is especially true as Mr. Hernandez will be required to disclose this compensation information soon enough to the California Secretary of State:

    “Lobbying firms file quarterly financial disclosure reports during the course of a two-year legislative session. Check here to learn the payments received by the firm from its clients on a quarter by quarter basis.

    as well as the fact that AILA will be forced to show this payment on Schedule C – Political Campaign and Lobbying Activities in its 2013 tax return (Form 990).

    So once again, AILA national refuses to give its membership the information it is entitled to have. It is ridiculous that AILA not only continues to do this, but that it hides behind non-disclosure agreements that it simply should not be making for various – and obvious – reasons.

    It’s also another example of AILA taking an advocacy position without consulting the membership. For all I know AB 1159 may be terrible, but if that’s the case then all the easier it should be for the membership to make an informed consent and to support the effort.

    The above is all the more disturbing when one considers that AILA is already using a significant portion of its members’ dues to pay for advocacy efforts, and this without ever polling the membership on what those advocacy positions should be. The AILA annual budget for 2013 calls for spending one million dollars on advocacy ($993,384 to be exact; and for those “AILA can do no wrong” critics who will jump on the figure claiming that it’s required by CIR, note that the 2011 and 2012 totals were $889,000 and $995,269 respectively, so that puts to bed that argument). And these figures don’t include the significant salaries paid to AILA senior staff whose job it is to do exactly what we are now paying an outsider to do: according to the 2012 AILA tax return, Mr. Deasy received $204,000 in compensation while Mr. Gregory Chen, AILA’s Director of Advocacy, received $154,977.

    In short, it may be a good idea for AILA national to oppose this bill, and it may even be a good idea to have local boots on the ground in California helping out (although one wonders why a professional association of attorneys needs a hired gun to make its views known to a legislature with a significant number of attorneys in its membership), but as always, the membership should have been asked what position (if any) the national should take on this and how much we are paying for it.

    Maybe this important issue of how and what we pay outside lobbyists will be taken up by AILA’s “Transparency Taskforce”, scheduled to make its initial recommendations at some unknown future date and in some unknown future manner, but it would be nice if for once – just once – AILA took the high road without being forced to do so.

    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.
    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Kenneth Rinzler's Avatar
      Kenneth Rinzler -
      The author received the following in an email today from Ms. Susan Quarles, AILA's Deputy Director, after publication of the above article::

      "AILA is governed by an elected Board. Policy and financial decisions are made by the Board; the staff implement those decisions. The AILA Board had a conference call last Wednesday (August 7th) and the Board voted to provide up to $15k (matched by the 4 California chapters) to pay for a California lobbyist to represent us on the AB.1159 issue. The minutes of that Board call will be posted to InfoNet soon."

      Thank you, ILW.COM, for your influence in helping to obtain this information.
    1. inteconlaw's Avatar
      inteconlaw -
      As I mentioned in my comment to Mr. Rinzler's previsous ILW post, I quit AILA because of their lack of transparancy. Nothing has changed and in my opinion, Mr. Rinzler's experience with AILA simply re-enforces my dislike for AILA and supports my decision not to be a member. I wonder why some enterprising young immigration lawyer does not start a competing organization. I might consider joining it . . . how about you other sheep out there? . . . . are you satisfied with AILA?
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