Quote of the day/week/however long

"Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does."
~William James

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

"A free press can iron dirty laundry..."

"...but then you'll pay for the heat."

Faithful followers might remember long ago when Madam wrote,

"With apologies to the half-dozen highly competent immigration attorneys that Madam knows -- what the heck is with the rest of them? Is there no test of competency or even basic knowledge before an 'immigration attorney' can hang a shingle?

[American Immigration Lawyers Association] conventions one can only be stunned by the incredibly clueless questions some attorneys ask, and the information they try to offer. In panel presentations, it is not uncommon that audience members are so ignorant of the law and so instantly hostile toward US consular representatives that their fellow attorneys have to shush them and drag them back into their seats.

"A hint: if you have to use six different fonts in a letter expressing your indignation about a case that hasn't been going your way; if you can't find relevant legal decisions and so quote - at length - decisions that actually have no bearing on your case; if you find yourself insulting, name-calling, and quoting at length from an interview that you did not attend; maybe you need to consider one of two things:

"one, maybe your applicant is not going to get a visa for some very good reason, such as he doesn't qualify under the law.

"two, maybe you need to go back to the books and learn what you're trying to practice."

That was a very fun rant to write.  But now here is another that puts Madam's little pique-fit to shame.  It was written to an AILA-members-only info board by a disgruntled and disillusioned AILA attorney, and it is a doozy.   It is quite long, but a positively rolicking read that, like all great literature, hints at deeper, wider issues of the utmost seriousness.  Enjoy.

AILA’s InfoNet Message Center (MC)

    Let me start by confirming what many of you already know: I am not a big fan of the organization known as AILA. But I digress.

    The Message Center is another of AILA’s attempted suppression of free speech and its almost vitriolic hatred of the Federal Government and how it tries to enact, interpret, and enforce its immigration laws. It’s not even remotely an open question anymore, for AILA as an organization and too many of its individual members don’t even recognize the concept of the “loyal opposition” (to wit, those who don’t think the government is automatically wrong, 100% of the time.). This can be seen on an almost daily basis on the MC.

    (And, by the way, let me here insert an interesting tidbit, to reinforce what some of you may already think about me. I only started recently posted on MC because I learned that Google uses website listings on blogs and places like the MC as part of its algorithms for rankings, and thus every time I post something on the MC and use my website address of www.rinzler.com, it helps my business. In short, it’s free advertising, but at least I am honest about it. While I also enjoy being a mentor, I have found that effective mentoring generally requires the attorney to call the mentor to discuss the facts of the case in detail, rather than posting some ridiculously incomplete statement of “facts” on the MC. This rationale would seem, of course, to put me and every other MC poster in violation of the MC’s laughable “Terms of Use”, specifically “[When posting a message, you must agree] (e) not to use the Message Center for advertising of products or services.” Everyone who posts on the MC is advertising themselves and the opinion they have to offer as much as anything else. Yes, we all know that many, if not most, people who post do it out of the goodness of their hearts, but from where I stand many more seem to do it because they like seeing their name in print and it’s a contest as to who can post the most and the fastest.)

    That being said, the MC Rules open with “The message board is designed to provide an informal open forum to AILA members for the exchange of information, experiences, and ideas.” It also states that “reproducing or publishing any contents of the Message Center in any other forum or forwarding contents to others is strictly prohibited.”

Under Terms of Use can be found: When posting a message, you must agree: (b) not to use the Message Center for the posting of any material that is defamatory, offensive, blasphemous, or obscene;
The statements you post may be actionable for defamation, invasion of privacy, or other legal cause of action. Readers must avoid comments that are false and injurious to others.  
Repeated violations of these standards may result in the Member being barred from access to the Message Center.

    Please tell me this overly broad, incredibly subjective, and completely unenforceable language was not written by lawyers, especially lawyers who are supposed to be champions of free speech. Even the U.S. Supreme Court has recently ruled that one may say curse words on TV. And “blasphemous”? Are you serious? Did AILA get that suggestion from the Pope or from Al-Qaeda? When did AILA become the keeper of the public’s morals? Who gets to determine when someone is offended and, if so, whether it merits 40 lashes or just ten?

    As for not “forwarding contents to others”, then we might as well close up shop. How about emails between colleagues? Listserves? How about all the so-called liaisons sharing information with those evil U.S. Government (USG) personnel in an effort to help the membership? What about the talks I have with my mom, my neighbor, my Congressman? But those are technicalities, and not what I really want to discuss here.

    I do not feel constrained by the MC’s mostly stupid, yes stupid, rules, and thus I do not feel the need to abide by them. That statement should be enough to get the conspiracy theorists in a lather. And as for explicitly and/or implicitly agreeing to them by using the MC, I’d offer the analogy of when one installs software on his computer: if you don’t “agree” to the 10,000 word license and click on the “Next” button, you ain’t getting to Kansas, Toto.

    So please, moderators and other keepers of the faith, stop telling us what the MC rules are, and how that if we share what we read, we will not only burn in hell but might have our posting rights revoked. It’s not for you to decide and it’s an unwarranted infringement of the right of freedom of speech, as well as simply undermining AILA’s credibility in so many ways. If you feel you’ve been personally defamed, then sue. Otherwise, move on. And as for the constant reminders that MC postings are sacred texts not to be shared with anyone, I suggest you enter the 21st century. Any adult who posts on the internet, anywhere on the internet but especially to a forum where one knows that at least 5,000 members or so have unfettered access, has no expectation of privacy. If you don’t want it spread around, then don’t post it. You’re afraid of breaching attorney-client privilege? Don’t post it. You don’t want someone else to talk to an FSO and say “watch out for this future applicant’ or have your statements possibly misinterpreted, then don’t post it. You want confidential advice from a colleague, pick up the damn phone, don’t post it. Again, it’s not rocket science. And, ironically enough, anyone who follows the blogosphere knows that the State Department has already punished numerous FSO’s for their blogs and for not toeing the party line. One would hope AILA would be above that.

    And speaking of intentionally or unintentionally sharing postings with the government, when did Uncle Sam become AILA’s enemy? Why are government attorneys prohibited from joining AILA? Not that any rational one would want to, but are they not one of the key groups we need to work with in this life? And as to the State Department’s Foreign Service Officers (FSO’S), why is it that the only thing AILA and the overwhelming majority of its ignorant, yes ignorant when it comes to the realities of what FSO’s do and the conditions and expectations they operate under, membership ever says about them is that they are relentlessly incompetent, inefficient, uncaring, and opposed to letting anyone – anyone – into this country at any time and for any reason? With the exception of the late Steve Fischel, it is almost impossible to find a positive reference by AILA and the majority of its members to an FSO. And this from a group who is relatively clueless about how American diplomatic posts operate, who have generally not been to a consulate unless it’s to the ACS window when they lost their passport while overseas or Aunt Tilly kicked the bucket in Florence and they need to ship the body home, who have not ever witnessed first-hand a visa interview or have had to face the difficult decision of whether some applicant might be the next terrorist or is “simply” someone who might be lying through his teeth. The FSO’s don’t make the laws; they are charged with enforcing them. And they don’t get a commission for every applicant they reject. And by actually living and working in-country, often under quite trying conditions, and by speaking the language, they are actually often more knowledgeable than an attorney from the U.S. who can only cite regulations (often without understanding the rationale behind them) and who unquestionably believes every single thing his paying client tells him, to the point that if Lady Macbeth came in for a consultation with blood covering her hands the first and maybe only question the attorney would ask after accepting payment was if she needed a napkin for that.

    The stated mission of AILA is “to promote justice, advocate for fair and reasonable immigration law and policy, advance the quality of immigration and nationality law and practice, and enhance the professional development of its members.” How is that possible if we always treat the government as the enemy? And how is that possible if AILA believes that virtually any violation of the immigration laws should be forgiven by a waiver so that anyone can get a visa or remain in this country, that an attorney should virtually never say to a prospective client “Hey, I may not turn you in but I sure as hell don’t want to represent you”, or realize that some clients lie or at least conveniently forget key facts and couldn’t/wouldn’t accurately relate what transpired in a consular interview if their lives depended on it (which they sometimes do).

    This past week there was a posting on MC which raised some very serious ethical issues as well as freedom of speech ones. It appeared that a CBP officer had broken the law in some quite serious ways, thus potentially opening himself up to extortion attempts and other national security issues as he is a law enforcement officer on our Southern border. I struggled with whether I should contact law enforcement authorities on this, and I advised the poster to give her course of action a lot of thought about what he/she might want to do. I also commented that I thought it was “sad” that so many of our colleagues were more concerned with the theoretical aspects of how to help this client accomplish his objective, rather than with the possible ethical and security considerations involved about having personal knowledge of someone who is charged with protecting our country’s security. Only one other poster thought I raised some valid concerns, while another made a joke about grabbing a firearm and making a citizen’s arrest on the officer. But at least there was some discussion, and then at one in the morning the string vanished.

    Since then I have learned the how and why of the string’s deletion. In short, one of the moderators thought he/she was doing the right thing; a motive I respect, but I question as to why we feel the need for someone to have to be in that position in the first place. Also, why was my posting removed, rather than just the original poster’s; do I not have any say in the matter? The original poster didn’t see the need to delete (because, as explained to me in an email from that person, after posting he/she didn’t feel the need to be on the MC the next day), so why should AILA? I can only think that the primary reason was that too many members were afraid that someone would contact the government or that the government was monitoring the MC. You know what, maybe the government does. Why the hell do we care? Again, if you don’t want it out in the public realm, don’t post it; AILA cannot and should not be the big brother (in all senses of the term) in such matters.

    I know many FSO’s, both professionally and personally. Living in Washington, DC, and having travelled to forty countries helps account for that. Some of them are fantastic at what they do, some less so, and a few are, frankly, terrible. Funny, but the same can be said about AILA members. The difference is, however, that the typical FSO understands the attorney’s purpose in the visa process, and even enjoys working with those attorneys who show a modicum of respect for the FSO’s responsibilities, display a decent amount of competence and evidence of having done their homework, and try to see the case from the FSO’s point of view. Unfortunately, in my experience – and in that of most FSO’s --the same cannot be said of most AILA members. And if you think FSO’s are na├»ve enough or vain enough or stupid enough that they will show favoritism to an attorney simply because he tries to curry favor with them, well then you just keep on believing it because I have no energy nor desire to correct the limitless misconceptions held by AILA when it comes to FSO’s. In closing, I’ll even let you in on a little secret: while security concerns are one valid reason why some posts don’t like to admit attorneys absent exceptional circumstances, the overwhelming reason is because too many attorneys have proven to be incompetent, abrasive, and arrogant. The real reason posts have been limiting attorney access is because the people promoting it the most for the past 20 years are the same ones who have pissed off the most FSO’s. And consider this: we won’t let them into our house, why should they let us enter theirs?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Immigration attorney here.

This is an unfortunate direction for relations between FSOs and immigration attorneys. I'm discouraged by the tone of this post. We're all sworn to uphold the laws of the United States and we have our different functions in service of that aim.

I have a lot of respect for FSOs who maintain a handle on the vast body of knowledge that they need to keep in mind to discharge their duties well.

However, attorneys have the duty to represent their clients, and sometimes this means arguing with the FSO and having a different perspective on the applicant's eligibility from the FSO. It does not make sense to rant against people who are trying to do their job as well as they can. That goes both ways.

I appreciate the reminder to be respectful of the FSO's important duties, and I thank Mr. Rinzer for that reminder.

-Shevon Greene, attorney at law