The Executive Director of AILA declined our request to rescind Cecilia Muñoz’s invitation as keynote speaker at annual conference.
Her response is below. I am not convinced.
Dear Mr. Johnson et al:
Thank you for your letter regarding the invitation of Cecilia Munoz, Assistant to the President and Director of the Domestic Policy Council, to deliver the keynote address at the 2015 AILA Annual Conference. I understand and share your outrage over family detention and over the way that Central Americans seeking safe refuge are being treated by our government. As discussed below, AILA has been working vigorously to end family detention and seek fair treatment of asylum-seekers.
Different organizations use keynotes for different purposes. Some aim to inspire the attendees. Others try to set the tone for the conference. Still others use it as the jumping-off point for the remainder of the proceedings. AILA? AILA uses the keynote as one of several tools to promote government accountability.
If you look at AILA annual conferences over the years, you will see one recurrent theme in our keynote speakers: it’s virtually always a government official. Last year it was the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security. Frequently it has been the Director of USCIS or the Director of ICE. Before the days of DHS, it was almost always the Commissioner of INS. Many of these speakers have not been friends, and have engaged in practices anathema to all that AILA stands for. In addition to the keynote, we turn over an entire track for an entire day to government open forums—panels of government officials from the different agencies involved in immigration.
All of this is for a reason. The AILA annual conference is the single largest gathering in the country of people who know immigration. Who know the law, and know what is happening in reality in the field. When a government official stands in front of AILA, he or she is standing before a group that can’t be fooled by pretty words or general sound bites and slogans.
Which gets us to the question of why Cecilia Munoz. I’m not going to quarrel with your characterization of her individual role, since what matters is not what she has done privately or publicly on these issues. What matters is that she holds senior office in the White House, and thus can stand in front of a room of immigration lawyers and speak for the White House. And the White House must be held accountable for what it has done. The best way to do that is to put a White House official in front of a couple thousand immigration lawyers and talk about what the Administration has done. The good and the bad. The popular and the unpopular. DACA and Executive Actions. Record deportations and family detention.
If the experts on immigration law, and on the truth of what is happening in the field, are not willing to raise this challenge, who else will?
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what our members have been doing, pro bono, to represent these families and unaccompanied children. I recognize names of committed volunteers among the individuals on whose behalf your letter is signed. Beyond that, we as an organization have pursued, and continue to very actively pursue, all available avenues to #EndFamilyDetention. Today’s press conference by Members of Congress in opposition to family detention came about after Congress has heard repeatedly about the cases AILA lawyers have won and through the constant efforts by AILA and other advocates. We’ve shared information with editorialists and reporters around the country, including the New York Times editorial board, to keep the family detention situation in front of them; several recent editorials and opinion pieces attest to those efforts. Similarly, we have spent countless hours in that frustrating coin of Washington—meetings and phone calls—to try to turn the government tide on these issues. We also have worked closely with coalition partners to get grass roots attention on these issues.
So, no, we will not be disinviting Ms. Munoz. We will have her come and speak to our conference. We will behave professionally, but we will also challenge her to account for the Administration’s actions. Our mission as an organization requires no less.