Travel Report: AILA in Seattle

by Matthew Bray


This year I had the great opportunity to attend the annual fall conference of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), held in Seattle, Washington. The theme of the conference this fall was “Mastering the Art of Removal Defense,” and consisted of an all-day Continuing Legal Education program designed to provide attorneys with a review of the basics of representing immigrants in removal proceedings as well as the latest developments in the law. The program also included a report from several attorneys who had recently volunteered for the hundreds of mothers and children detained at the Artesia facility as well as an update on the lawsuits filed recently to try to shut down that facility and put a stop to the expedited deportation practices of the Obama administration in response to the border surge.

The conference was conducted around a fictitious fact pattern that was designed to touch upon a number of issues relevant to removal defense—nonimmigrant status, adjustment of status, marriage fraud, petitions to remove conditions on residence, asylum, Temporary Protected Status (TPS), family hardship, and criminal convictions. The opening panel touched on commencing representation of foreign nationals in removal proceedings, including initial intake, representation agreements, analysis of Notices to Appear (the charging documents that are served upon foreign nationals to commence removal proceedings once lodged in immigration court), as well as making bond requests and initial appearances at master calendar hearings. This portion included thoughtful strategies for when to contest allegations and charges of removability and the importance of setting clear expectations and means of communication with clients at the outset of representation.

The second portion related to conducting the individual (merits) hearing—or trial—in immigration court, and the importance of thinking as far ahead as possible to preserve the record for appeal in case of a loss and in light of the fact that immigration law changes rapidly. The third portion also related to trial representation, focusing on direct and cross-examination, areas that removal practitioners (i.e., immigration attorneys) often do not have as much experience in when compared to trial attorneys (due to the administrative nature of removal proceedings and the fact that not all of the traditional rules of evidence and procedure apply there). For this section, AILA brought in a local trial attorney for Seattle who conducted a mock direct and cross-examination of the respondent (the foreign national in proceedings) as well as the government’s expert witness. This section, in particular, was very valuable as it provided direct skills to improve representation of clients at trial.

After the report back from Artesia, there was a panel on “Crimmigration” covering the intersection of criminal and immigration law. This panel offered new and interesting arguments to make—and preserve for appeal—in light of new openings in the case law from the Supreme Court, the Circuit Courts, and the Board of Immigration Appeals (the nation’s top immigration appeals court). This was my favorite section—I am always in awe of the brilliant minds that come together to litigate these difficult issues and fight so that immigrants facing deportation have a chance to apply for relief from removal. The panel following “Crimmigration” covered precisely these forms of relief. It contained a basic overview of the forms of relief available in immigration court and showed how several of these forms of relief would arguably be available to our fictitious respondent from the fact pattern. This panel also addressed evolving issues relating to the burden of proof for both eligibility and winning these forms of relief in court.

Finally, the last panel related to appellate issues—revisiting not only the importance of preserving factual and legal issues for appeal, but the best ways to write and prosecute such appeals. This panel emphasized the value of good writing and storytelling to the success of an appeal, as well as contained an overview of the mechanics for filing appeals and writing briefs before the different tribunals that hear them.

Overall, the conference was an excellent review of the basics as well as a primer on the latest legal developments in the law. It was also an opportunity to hear from practitioners from other parts of the country. Although working in removal defense is an uphill battle everywhere, I learned that we are comparatively lucky in New York City to have a number of sympathetic judges in the immigration court and basic policies and practices in place that give people facing deportation at least a fighting chance. The conference was also inspiring because I was able to hear from lawyers from around the country who meet the challenges of removal defense and fight hard to protect the basic due process rights of immigrants facing deportation.

 Thank you, Pacific Northwest, for the beautiful weather. (At Greenwater Lakes).

Thank you, Pacific Northwest, for the beautiful weather. (At Greenwater Lakes).

The conference was a whirlwind, starting at 8am and ending at 5pm. There was little time to explore Seattle, though I did take a brief walk on Thursday evening—the night of the Scottish independence vote—where I saw several men in kilts playing bagpipes! I also found a cheap vegetarian restaurant right near the hotel, Veggie Grill, which offered a wide selection of fun vegan and vegetarian fare. I had the “Chikin” cutlets, mashed potatoes, and steamed kale—it really hit the spot. I did not get a chance to explore much more of the city because by 6pm I was driving out to go on a short camping trip with a friend in Greenwater Lakes, about two hours southeast of Seattle. This was an amazing opportunity for me to get some nature in and disconnect from civilization, if only for a few days.

Finally, I should mention the greatest miracle of all—the weather. I have always thought of Seattle as rainy and a little cold, and as a fan of the television show The Killing, I knew that there could be some serious torrential downpours. So I was worried not only about my time in Seattle, but I also worried for the camping trip. In the end, we experienced two absolutely gorgeous and warm days, with bright sun and clear skies. So thanks Seattle—I’m a fan!