Outside the state-of-the-art Bloomberg View offices, April 28, 2014

Outside the state-of-the-art Bloomberg View offices, April 28, 2014

Talking on the phone is great.  E-mail can be incredibly convenient. But nothing beats a face-to-face meeting.

That’s the motto Leslie Holman and I were living by as we went from one meeting to another at a pretty rapid fire pace this past Monday and Tuesday during the press tour that AILA National Communications staff organized.

What difference does meeting face-to-face make?

The best way to get to know someone is to spend time with them. When you meet someone, get a chance to sit down and dig into the issues, it turns you from a voice on the phone or letters in an email to a real live person. You see the smiles, you see the gestures that emphasize a particular point, you can “read” them and get a gut feeling about their honesty, their attitude, and what they know.

Reporters live and die by accuracy. Their ability to relay the story with the facts in line is what makes or breaks their reputation. Their jobs depend on knowing who to approach for the answer to a question and getting that information right.

Leslie and I tag-teamed a lot of the reporters, sharing information and the on-the-ground knowledge that only AILA members have about how immigration law and policy really work (or not).

Some of the issues we brought up were focused on business immigration, like adjudications for L-1 and other visas that seem to have tightened up in the past few years without much information about why. We also talked about expedited removals which along the Southern border are surging in numbers, but Leslie was able to give concrete examples of how the Northern border is also being affected.

We tried not to let their eyes glaze over with too many acronyms, though that can be difficult in immigration law.

Leslie talks with International Business Times reporter Laura Matthews

Leslie talks with International Business Times reporter Laura Matthews

Naturally, the latest removal and return numbers came up in several of the conversations and we did our best to explain what the numbers really mean and how they were being sliced and diced differently in some stories but that the absolute numbers, and what they show when it comes to enforcement, remained the same.

The tour included discussions with Public Radio International, the New York Times, WNYC, Bloomberg View, the International Business Times, Fox News and Fox News Latino, the Guardian and the Associated Press. At each and every meeting, AILA Communications staff had set us up to succeed because of their day to day press outreach efforts.  I can’t tell you how many times I heard about the stories that they’d helped on, the extra mile they go to make sure AILA is well-represented in the media, and the vitally important help that they give to reporters on deadline.  All of that work made our meetings start off on a positive note that we were able to build on and frankly made me proud.

Outside the Time Warner Center, April 29, 2014

Outside the Time Warner Center, April 29, 2014

And this media tour isn’t just a one way street.  We can learn from them as well.  We heard repeatedly that AILA is utilized as a knowledge base because we are a bar association dedicated to advancing the practice of immigration law and our expertise is without question. A couple of reporters actually made comments that served to reinforce my belief that to keep that status as the place for accurate and unbiased information, we must strive even harder to avoid positioning ourselves as an advocacy organization that leans one way or the other.

While we were in NYC, we also reconnected with Jeremy Robbins who heads up the Partnership for a New American Economy one of former NYC Mayor Bloomberg’s efforts to bring together mayors and business interests in a centrist organization aimed at getting out the message that immigration reform would be good for the economy. We’re going to be taking a look at their efforts and determining where we may be able to offer the expertise and knowledge about immigration in their districts to help bolster the case that reform is necessary, it’s the right thing to do, and huge side benefit guys: it’ll be good for our country’s bottom line.

As we wrapped up the meetings at the end of Tuesday and began our journeys home, I was grateful for the opportunity and felt that the meetings with these press contacts were invaluable.  I was grateful for the hard work of the AILA Communications team who not only made the meetings happen, put together the background materials for our informational packets, and who I know will make sure that these contacts are cemented and strengthened.  I was also incredibly grateful for the partner I had by my side during the tour: Leslie Holman, our President-Elect.  She was a strong voice for our membership in each and every meeting and I was honored to introduce her to the press as my successor.

So, get out there!  I want to encourage each AILA chapter to consider organizing an event and reach out to their local media.  Each chapter has reporters who reach out to them for stories but strengthening those connections through face-to-face meetings, or through a reporters’ roundtable on immigration, will only make your message more powerful.

And if you’re at a loss as to how to get started, please reach out to George Tzamaras, Belle Woods, or Ellie Rutledge at AILA—they want to help, they have resources they’ve developed and ideas to share.  With their assistance, you can ensure your face-to-face interviews are a success!

 Written by T. Douglas Stump, AILA President