By EB5 Investors Magazine Staff
Annaluisa Padilla, an immigration lawyer from La Habra in California, has been elected as the president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association for the 2017-2018 term.
She knows immigration first hand. She came to the United States from Guatemala with her parents in 1983. After getting her undergraduate degree from UCLA, she earned her law degree from Whittier Law School in 1997 and then started her own practice in 2002. Her practice is focused on humanitarian relief including asylum, VAWA and representing unaccompanied minors.
“Being AILA’s president is a great accomplishment in my life’s journey as an immigrant to the United States,” Padilla said. “At the same time, it carries the responsibility to work tirelessly through advocacy and other efforts, leading our members in all of our work to ensure that the important principles of due process and fairness are reflected in all our immigration policies and laws.”
What is your professional and educational background?
I graduated from Whittier Law School in 1997. My undergraduate studies took place at UCLA, where I majored in German. After graduating from UCLA and prior to starting my career as an attorney, I worked in the entertainment industry for 12 years. I spent nine years at Warner Bros and three years at Sony Pictures Entertainment overseeing the international localization of U.S. films for foreign distribution. This involved negotiating with companies in charge of translating film dialogue, hiring of voice-over actors, directors and subtitling companies to localize films and repackage them in various languages around the world. I traveled to Europe and Latin America to oversee these operations and negotiated with companies for their respective services. In 2002, I left the industry to start my law firm focusing on immigration and family law. Some of my first clients were companies seeking to hire foreign nationals under H and L visas.
What do you hope to achieve in your new role as president of AILA?
The immigration landscape has changed over the past several years with anti-immigrant sentiment intensifying as a result of myths and untruths that have been spread about immigrants. One of my priorities as AILA president is to help dispel the myths about immigration and immigrants in general, reiterating the fact that immigration builds stronger communities and is vital to our economy, and our ability to remain a competitive player in the global market. In addition, I hope to see AILA solidify its place as the preeminent bar association of immigration attorneys and the go-to for experts in our field.
How many members does AILA have and what is the mission of the organization?
We have more than 15,000 members nationwide and around the globe. Our mission 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 our members.
What do you see as AILA’s priorities in the coming year?
The Trump administration has been laser focused on immigration since the inauguration, so one of our priorities this year is to ensure our members have the necessary information and tools to respond to new policies and the agencies’ arbitrary and capricious demands during the adjudication process. We are also ensuring our members have the skills and expertise to challenge erroneous and unjustifiable adjudications through the federal court system.
In addition, we must challenge the pervasive false rhetoric about immigration and refocus the conversation. Immigration has a tremendous influence on our nation’s prosperity and more must be done to elevate the value and contributions of immigrants to the success of our country.
Why did you want to become an immigration lawyer?
My family came to the U.S. from Guatemala in the early 1980’s. We went through the complex and intimidating immigration process. Although I was very young at the time, when I had the opportunity to read our immigration file and learn what my parents went through to secure our safety in this country, I felt not only fortunate, but also obligated. My obligation is to help others and to give back to all those immigrants who continue to come to the United States to seek refuge, employment or innovative opportunities for research and investments.
What do you think about the EB-5 program, retrogression and the lawyer’s role?
The EB-5 program is an important part of our immigration system that has contributed to overall U.S. economic growth, created jobs for U.S. workers, and stimulated local economies through capital investment. Unfortunately, the current allotment of visas to the program is insufficient and has created significant delays in the ability of many investors to enter the United States and has required funds to be redeployed or reinvested, which creates additional risk for investors. Because the length of the investment is longer, the increased risk can be attributed to the fact that the return on investment by the new commercial enterprise to the investor may be dependent upon the success of additional projects not known to the investor at the time they made their investment decision. As attorneys, we must continue to advocate for investors by insisting that if the initial investment loan matures in its natural course (five to seven years) and the requisite jobs are created by the initial EB-5 project, redeployment of invested funds should not be required. It’s AILA’s view that USCIS’s legal rationale for redeployment based on the “at risk” investment requirement is unsound. If USCIS has sound policy reasons for requiring reinvestment, it should articulate its reasoning and eliminate the element of risk. Investors have already made one at risk investment in satisfaction of the statute; they should not be penalized by the visa backlog by incurring serial risk.
In addition, though we recognize that changes to modernize the EB-5 program may be necessary, we will continue to push for permanent reauthorization of the EB-5 Regional Center program.
Please tell us about your volunteer work and what that means for you?
From the moment I established my firm, I knew volunteering was going to be an integral part of my practice. I am a firm believer in an attorney’s duty to ensure “equal access to justice.” Attorneys are guardians of our constitution and are uniquely positioned to identify, challenge and redress injustices and to protect civil liberties. Volunteering allows me to fulfill that mission. Most of my volunteer work involves providing representation for the most vulnerable of immigrants – victims of domestic violence, unaccompanied minors and asylum seekers. The work is challenging but at the same time very rewarding.
How do you think your personal background as an immigrant from Guatemala benefits your job as an immigration lawyer?
Having been through the immigration process myself, I am able to connect with my clients on a personal level. It provides them with assurance that the person handling their case is not only knowledgeable in the law and capable of advancing their case, but also understanding of the anxiety and worries they experience. Whether I am representing an asylum seeker or a small business seeking to bring new talent to their company to increase their competitiveness, my immigrant story can provide a sense of comfort in the process.
What role does immigration have for this country?
This nation was founded by immigrants and continues to be the beacon of hope and the torch of entrepreneurism for the world. Immigrants believe in the dream that became America and want to be part of it. Immigration is what continues to propel our nation to the forefront of research and innovation. We must continue to inform and inspire with the stories that show that immigrants make America great!