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A Message from Our Chair

ABA Commission on Immigration Chair, 2023-2024

Michelle Jacobson

Michelle Jacobson

Read Michelle Jacobson's bio here.

As I reflect on our nation’s history, I recognize the vital role immigration has played as the foundation for our success as a country of innovation and prosperity.   For over two hundred years, newly arrived immigrants have arrived at our borders looking to achieve the American dream.  As they acclimate, work, and educate themselves, they discover within themselves a resilience necessary to overcome the obstacles inherent in their new surroundings.  In recent times, the challenges faced by these newcomers, whether they are documented or undocumented, have grown in their complexity, underscoring the urgency for immediate, sensible, and practical solutions.  The American Bar Association’s Commission on Immigration (“Commission”) has a longstanding commitment to promoting principles of fairness, access to justice, and human rights for immigrants and asylum-seekers in the United States.  As the incoming Chair of the Commission on Immigration, I aim to focus on improving the immigrant experience and rectifying the deficiencies maintained within our immigration system.

Immigration has long been the lifeblood of the United States, infusing its culture, society, and economy with a vibrant tapestry of diversity and acting as a driver for innovation. Yet, the path to the American dream is too often paved with challenges and obstacles for immigrants and asylum-seekers, particularly those seeking refuge and a better life within our borders.  It seems that with each news story highlighting another unnecessary tragedy of migrants traveling to the border, we are reminded of the pressing need for comprehensive and compassionate immigration reform.   

The journey of immigrants to the United States is marked by courage, resilience, and hope. However, the current state of the immigration system presents a myriad of challenges that hinder their ability to fully integrate into American society. From the lack of access to legal counsel to the complexities of navigating the minefield of our legal landscape, immigrants often find themselves grappling with a system that too often lacks fairness and transparency. Moreover, the recent influx of migrants seeking asylum has exposed the underlying issues that have fueled the immigration crisis over the last decade. 

The Commission directs the ABA’s efforts to ensure fair treatment and full due process rights for immigrants and asylum-seekers within the United States. The Commission’s border projects provide legal services to thousands of migrants from all over the world, including unaccompanied children, families, and adults seeking  safety, protection, and opportunity within the United States.  The Commission is large, and its impact is great.  The Commission exemplifies a strong commitment to grassroots advocacy while maintaining on-the-ground impact.  The Commission engages in both executive and legislative policy and advocacy.  Recent examples include comments to proposed regulations, letters to DHS and DOJ with recommendations on asylum policies at the border, and letters to Congressional offices in support of proposed legislation.  It is truly a force for positive change.  

As a first-generation lawyer, I infuse compassion into my work having seen firsthand the difficulties involved in navigating our immigration system while struggling to adapt to a brand-new country. Through this lens, I am driven to pursue better outcomes for my clients while advocating for the unrepresented who remain vulnerable and have no voice in this broken system.  This resolve is shared with many of our staff, volunteers and Commission members who display a fierce commitment and are determined to push for this change.  Through collaborative efforts across the ABA, we can forge a system that upholds the rule of law while treating immigrants and asylum-seekers with the respect and empathy they deserve.

It is through this collective effort that we pave the way for transformative change—change that ensures equitable access to counsel, that safeguards the dignity of individuals regardless of their origins, and that reflects the values upon which this nation was built. By advocating for policies that prioritize family unity, protect vulnerable populations, and establish sensible pathways to securing legal status, we can chart a course toward a more inclusive and harmonious future.