National Data | Activist Lawyers Aid Illegals, Hurt Themselves
March 05, 2005, 04:00 AM
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The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) is the national association for attorneys who practice immigration law. AILA membership has more than doubled in the past decade. [Table 1.] Nevertheless, its current membership of 9,000 is surprisingly small considering that more than 700,000 legal immigrants, 600,000 "temporary" guest workers, and as many as 3 million illegals enter the nation every year.

Why so few immigration lawyers? Low pay is one factor. A survey of AILA members conducted in January 2003 found this distribution of law practice incomes:

  • Less than $50,000: 26.4 percent of AILA members

 

  • $50,000-$100,000: 37.1 percent if AILA members

 

  • $100,001-$175,000: 18.2 percent of AILA members

 

  • $175,001-$250,000: 9.7 percent of AILA members

 

  • More than $250,000: 8.6 percent of AILA members

The distribution indicates that the median salary of AILA members is less than $100,000. This is not a princely sum in a profession where newly minted law school graduates often earn $80,000 to $90,000 their first year.

There is an obvious reason for this. The bulk of the Immigrants are generally too poor to pay market rates for U.S. attorneys. Many illegals fork over all they have to Coyotes before even entering the country.

But there is a more important reason for the relative dearth and penury of immigration counsel - they are not really needed that much.

Once here, illegal immigrants rarely require much help from a lawyer to stay. Federal agencies entrusted with enforcing penalties against companies that employ illegal aliens have lost interest in that task. The legal system is clogged with conflicting immigration law statutes, administrative regulations, and judicial turf wars. George W. Bush's guest worker plan will effectively legalize illegal immigrants and their employers.

The leaders of the immigration bar themselves are significantly responsible for the relatively low demand for immigration lawyers. AILA is an activist organization with macro policy concerns. A major part of its mission is to promote laws and regulations that ease the entry of immigrants and foil their removal. AILA has initiated sweeping class action suits to keep people who never had any legal status – illegal aliens – in the country.

The worst word in AILA's lexicon is "restrictionist." Among the issue papers cited in the January 2005 "Restrictionist Watch" (a monthly AILA publication)  are ones entitled "Oppose State and Local Enforcement of Federal Immigration Law," "Essential Workers Help Our Economy," and "Migration to Recovery: the Role of Immigration in Urban Renewal."  Passage of Arizona's Proposition 200 is dismissed as "An expression of frustration that our system is broken."

Apparently, the Immigration bar is lead by people who are political zealots first, and businessmen second. Other Immigration lawyers are, in a sense, victims of their leaders' effectiveness. Unfortunately, so are the rest of us.

American Immigration Lawyers Association Membership

Year

 

1994 (August)

3,700

1995

4,000

1996

4,200

1997

5,000

1998

5,500

1999

6,000

2000

6,500

2001

7,500

2002

8,000

2003

8,400

2004

8,700

2005

9,000

Source: AILA. (E-mail to author March 7, 2005.)

Edwin S. Rubenstein (email him) is President of ESR Research Economic Consultants in Indianapolis.