Don't be fooled by his preppy bow tie and conservative suit. Philadelphia lawyer William Stock leads a national army of 14,000 attorneys bent on revolution. On shutting down the family detention centers that hold children arrested with immigrant parents. On eliminating the one-year deadline to apply for asylum. On getting the government to pay for a lawyer for anyone facing deportation.
Last month, Stock, 48, became president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, now in its 70th year. The great-grandson of immigrants who left what are present-day Slovakia and Croatia to work in the coal mines of Ohio, he was raised in Wisconsin, and earned a law degree at the University of Minnesota. In 1993, he moved to Philadelphia to practice immigration law with Ron Klasko at Dechert L.L.P. In 2003, he and Klasko formed their own firm. For a decade, Stock, of Abington Township, was a lecturer in law at Villanova University.
In this edited Q&A, Stock said that despite the appearance of seriously addressing the problem, "Congress has never attempted comprehensive immigration reform."
Q: What has been getting in the way of a solution?
A: Immigration is not an issue that tends to divide by party. It tends to divide along different factions within each party.
There are three legs on the stool of comprehensive immigration reform: You have to provide for the future flow [of immigrants]; provide a path to legal status for the undocumented who are here; and have enforcement mechanisms that everyone can take seriously. Different constituencies support one or maybe two of those legs, but not all three. It's very hard to have something which addresses the enforcement side that doesn't go so far as to alienate folks who are concerned about future flows.
Q: What is riding on the outcome of the presidential election?
A: Immigration lawyers will be very busy either defending the system we have from attempts to morph it into something else without Congress getting involved - which is certainly what Donald Trump said he will attempt to do - or working toward comprehensive reform, and then implementing it.
For the hardest-core anti-immigration representatives, who primarily are in the conservative wing of the Republican Party, no action is a victory. They've said they would like attrition through enforcement. People will self-deport. As long as they can throw sand in the gears and get people to not come together and make compromises, they regard that as a win.
Q: How will history judge President Obama on immigration?
A: Unfortunately, Obama's immigration legacy is going to look much like George W. Bush's. Both tried to get comprehensive immigration reform; both were stymied. Both made enforcement decisions that in hindsight were unreasonable and caused a lot of grief. Whether it was Bush's targeting Muslim Americans for registration after 9/11, or Obama's detention of families and children in response to [waves of] asylum-seekers at our borders. In both instances, that's a lot of human misery that could have been avoided.
Q: How can the federal government afford to pay for court-appointed counsel for immigrants?
A: We have billions of dollars to give Corrections Corporation of America [a for-profit private prison operator] in a contract to detain them. It's no different from saying that if we are going to prosecute criminals, and the Constitution requires them to have a lawyer, then we better find the money for the prosecutor and we better find the money for the defense as well.
Q: What's wrong with requiring a person to seek asylum within a year of arriving in the U.S.?
A: We have criticized the one-year deadline as being too short from the time it was put in the statute back in 1996. [Congress'] thinking was if someone is afraid, they will come forward right away. Certainly the women and children showing up on the southern border are looking for the first [Customs and Border Patrol] officer they can find. . . . But it always seemed to me unduly harsh to say that somebody who didn't see a lawyer, didn't reach out to a community organizer within their first year of arriving, is barred from the asylum process. . . .
I think the amount of time it took for a person to apply for asylum should be one factor among others that are used by a judge in deciding that asylum case. There may be a situation where a very long delay is perfectly explainable. There may be a situation in which a very short delay is unreasonable. That should be a case-by-case determination.
Q: There are three family detention centers in the country. The oldest and smallest is in Berks County. Why do you want it closed?
A: Babies don't need to be in jail. The immigration service has many tools at its disposal, [including] ankle bracelets and other kinds of supervision. The purpose of detention is to make sure that people show up for their hearings. We should be using the most cost-effective way to do that. . . . And at some point I think it is just inhumane to say that we will take children - 4, 5, 6 years old - and re-traumatize them by holding them in jail.