Immigration Law

Stock in Trade: Ingenuity

"When Margaret Stock [Harvard Law] ’92 was young, her great-grandfather, an Army veteran of the Philippine-American War and World War I, lived at her house in Wellesley, Mass. She used to go through his military memorabilia with him—awards, a mirror he’d used in the trenches, and a census record of his unit in the Philippines. This census, which showed that about 15 percent of his unit was from other countries—Russia, Italy, Ireland, Mexico, Germany—would turn out to be a seed for her work on immigration and the military, work that was recently recognized by the MacArthur Foundation with a “genius” grant. “I was struck by the number of immigrants in his unit. It was something I tucked away in the back of my mind,” Stock said, during a phone interview from her office in Anchorage, Alaska.

That piece of knowledge came in handy years later. Five years after 9/11, the U.S. military was fighting two wars and struggling to find qualified recruits, yet was turning away highly qualified immigrants who wanted to join the military as a quicker path to citizenship than the 10- to 15-year wait required to get a green card. Stock was part of the Army Reserve and taught at West Point. In Alaska, she had built a practice as an immigration lawyer, focusing partly on the effects of immigration law on military personnel. She knew that during times of war, the military was allowed by law to recruit immigrants and had done so for every war up through Vietnam. But everyone seemed to have forgotten about this loophole. “It was almost like everyone had amnesia,” she said. She also knew that the military was particularly desperate for soldiers with certain skills, such as the ability to speak foreign languages fluently, and was spending a lot of money on language training. Yet there was a pool of immigrants with exactly these skills waiting to be recruited. Stock saw the U.S. immigration system as an ever-more-intimidating bureaucracy, more focused on kicking people out of the country than on letting in the many skilled immigrants who want to be here.

Stock came up with the idea for MAVNI (Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest), a program that would provide an express lane for about a thousand people a year out of the many more caught up in the gridlocked immigration system. In meetings with everyone from the secretary of the Army to a group brought together to think through the crisis in military recruiting, Stock pointed out that the law allowing them to bring immigrants into the military already existed; they just had to dust it off: “Nobody had looked at the law—nobody paid any attention to it—so I’m the one who put the law together and said, ‘Look, here’s the law. You guys can meet this critical shortage. You don’t have to go to Congress. It just takes a memo.’ It just looked blindingly obvious to me.” She recalls that she ran it by a mentor who had once worked high up at the Pentagon, and he told her it was a great idea, but that the Pentagon “crushes great ideas.” If she managed to get it through at all, he told her, it would take at least five years. Stock got it through in less than 12 months.

Retired Lt. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, who was in charge of military recruiting and worked with Stock on MAVNI, pointed out that Stock had the rare dual ability of conceptualizing a program and planning its implementation from A to Z. “She’s a great leader and a changemaker,” he said. “Often people have a great policy idea, but they don’t know how to get it pushed through. She had the ability to see it through. And she made a cohesive argument because she could see the benefits to the individual, and to the nation.”

The program allows each branch of the military to recruit immigrants who are in the U.S. under temporary visas and who possess essential language or medical skills. The recruits on average score significantly better on tests and have higher levels of educational attainment and much lower attrition rates than their peers outside the MAVNI program." - Harvard Law Today, May 15, 2014.