Thursday, September 13, 2012

Conflict of Interest Problem on the Utah Commission on Immigration & Migration

Below is an e-mail I sent to most of the state senators and representatives.  The e-mail also included a copy of a letter I had sent to Lt. Governor Bell and the e-mail response from his office (which are also below). 

The issue raised is the presence of two immigration attorneys from the same law firm on the Utah Commission on Immigration and Migration (UCIM). 

This has the appearance of a conflict of interest. 

This is especially so when Mr. Kuck's call for pro-illegal immigration advocacy on the part of immigration attorneys is considered. 

The information below contains information that should be cause for one or both attorneys to be asked to leave the commission:


Dear Representative:

I am writing to voice my concern about the Utah Commission on Immigration & Migration.

My personal view is that this commission should be eliminated in the next legislative session.

It appears that the commission was conceived of and has become a voice, with a few exceptions, for a single perspective on state involvement in immigration - that of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce.

Ron Mortensen has written a very helpful article on this issue, which is available at:

According to Mr. Mortensen:

"A review of the Commission’s membership reveals just how effectively it has been stacked in favor of the Salt Lake Chamber’s position on illegal immigration."

I firmly believe that the commission is ill-conceived, unnecessary, and will serve as a mechanism to control public policy on this issue.

Even so, my principle concern in this e-mail is the clear conflict of interest of having two immigration attorneys, especially from the same law firm, on the commission. 

I outline my concerns below in a letter (which was also sent as an e-mail) to Lt. Governor Bell in July.  The e-mail response from his office is also reproduced below. 

At the very least, I would ask that you find a way to remove one or both of these attorneys from the commission.

I am not criticizing any particular act on their part and this should not be seen as an attack on their character in any way.   

My concern is with the public perception of having them both on the commission and the potential conflict of interest that presents.

The public deserves to have confidence that special interests are not the driving force in setting immigration policy.  

Best regards,

Darrell Robbins


Darrell Robbins
P.O. Box 58923
Salt Lake City, UT  84158-0923

The Honorable Gregory S. Bell
Lieutenant Governor of Utah
P.O. Box 142325
Salt Lake City, Utah 84114-2325

July 17, 2012

Dear Lieutenant Governor Bell:

I am writing to express my concern about two members of the Utah Commission on Immigration and Migration.

I believe there are two problems with having Ms. Barbara Melendez and Mr. Timothy Wheelwright serve on the commission.

The first is that both have recently moved from their respective law firms to that of Kuck Immigration Partners LLC.  Mr. Charles H. Kuck is the head of this company. 

This means that a single immigration law firm has two employees serving on the same commission. 

In terms of the commission holding and examining a diversity of views about immigration in Utah, this fact seems to narrow the range of opinions while giving a stronger voice to a particular perspective - that of immigration attorneys.

I do not wish to imply any type of unacceptable action on the part of Ms. Melendez or Mr. Wheelwright, but having immigration attorneys serve on the commission brings me to the second problem: the potential conflict of interest.

Immigration attorneys have a vested financial interest in the outcome of state immigration policy and how state policy might impact federal immigration law.   

The presence of immigration attorneys, therefore, seems to be out of place on such a commission.  Their expertise can be valuable to the commission, but should more properly take the form of providing information upon request about issues related to understanding federal visa programs, etc. 

The possible conflict of interest can perhaps be seen more clearly by considering briefly how Mr. Charles H. Kuck, for whom Ms. Melendez and Mr. Wheelwright ultimately work, approaches the role of immigration attorneys in the domain of public policy.

Mr. Kuck is the Managing Partner at Kuck Immigration Partners - which is a national immigration law firm.  He is a former National President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).  In early 2009, Mr. Kuck sent out an urgent message to AILA members which included the following:

"As you are undoubtedly aware, the immigration debate in the new Congress is breaking out at every turn; demanding our re-commitment to advocacy. We all need to be actively engaged."  [Emphasis added]

Mr. Kuck's view is that immigration lawyers should be advocates - and active ones.

His motive becomes quite clear further along in his urgent message:

"Our practices, our livelihood and our country's future depend on it! I appreciate your diligence and all your efforts to ensure our voice is heard and that those who oppose immigration at every turn, those who fear immigrants, and those who simply would close the doors to America and hang out a shingle that says “closed for business” do not and cannot win the day."  [Emphasis added]

When Mr. Kuck so openly appeals to the preservation of the law practices and livelihood of immigration lawyers, we are entitled to consider whether or not those concerns are not the driving force behind his particular views on immigration.  In other words, is he promoting the interests of immigration attorneys above the national interest?

Mr. Kuck definitely practices what he preaches. 
For example, he was a co-host (as was Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, among others) of the recent Southeast Summit on Immigration held in Atlanta, GA. 

In addition, at the most recent AILA meeting, Mr. Kuck participated on a panel entitled, "Protecting Our Clients: How to Combat Anti-Immigrant Legislation." 

The interesting thing about this panel is that it also featured Timothy Wheelwright and Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff - both of whom sit on the commission.

I am greatly concerned that Mr. Wheelwright, like his employer, sees his role as an immigration attorney as one of advocacy. 

To appear in a panel discussion on "Protecting Our Clients: How to Combat Anti-Immigrant Legislation" at the national conference of the AILA is a giant red flag.

Ms. Melendez also raises concerns because she has worked as legal counsel for the Mexican Consulate. 

According to a 2009 article from Utah Business:

"She [Melendez]...originally developed international expertise through serving as counsel for the Mexican consulate and the honorary Brazilian consulate in Utah. She gained knowledge of immigration law to service those clients, and then began handling related issues, such as transferring employees between divisions of multinational companies located in different countries."

A profile of Ms. Melendez, available at the website of her former employer, Kirton McConkie, tells us that Ms. Melendez served as legal counsel to the consulate from 2003 to the "present."  I do not know when this particular listing was posted, but it seems valid to assume that Ms. Melendez served the consulate as legal counsel for at least several years.  

I would not wish to imply that Ms. Melendez is not capable of separating her interests in serving the American people from her legal work for a foreign nation, but it does create a potential perception problem for the public.  The interests of Mexico are clearly directed towards a certain set of immigration policies and those policies may or may not be congruent with what is best for the United States.  In terms of perception, it might be better for Ms. Melendez to not be on the commission. 

I believe that the public needs to be able to look at the commission and to not walk away thinking that it is merely a tool of special interests. 

When Mr. Kuck, the employer of both Ms. Melendez and Mr. Wheelwright, publicly calls for immigration attorneys to be advocates, will Ms. Melendez and Mr. Wheelwright heed the call of their employer and use their positions to advocate for a certain immigration stance?

Keeping Mr. Wheelwright and Ms. Melendez on the commission invites suspicion from the public, i.e., that special interests are the driving force behind the commission and its decisions. 

I appreciate your kind consideration of my concerns.

Best regards,

Sources for the information outlined above:

1.  Press release about Ms. Melendez and Mr. Wheelwright moving to Kuck Immigration Partners LLC:

2.  Mr. Charles H. Kuck as head of Kuck Immigration Partners LLC and former National President of the AILA:

3.  Mr. Kuck's 2009 urgent message to the AILA:

4.  Mr. Kuck and Attorney General Shurtleff as co-hosts, with others, of Southeast Summit on Immigration:

5.  AILA download/cd for sale of "How to Combat Anti-Immigrant Legislation" and AILA program listing:

6.  Ms. Melendez worked for the Mexican consulate:

7.  Ms. Melendez' profile at Kirton McConkie listing work for Mexican Consulate (see "Experience" section):


Eric Ellis
Jul 18

to me
Mr. Robbins,
Your comments, thoughts and concerns regarding the individuals who make up the Commission on Immigration and Migration are much appreciated. Creating a commission with a partisan slant to deal with any issue, and especially immigration would likely produce some devastating legislative proposals regardless of which side it leaned--left or right.
Fortunately, with the insight of Lieutenant Governor Bell, the commissioners for this commission were selected for their expertise, education, and experiences from both sides of the immigration issue. Regardless of their position on immigration, these individuals were also selected for their ability to think rationally, and collectively as part of a balanced group and together have the ability to generate sound proposals for future legislation designed to deal with both legal and illegal immigration. These meetings are open to the public, and I encourage your to attend regularly if this is something you would like to see in action. By attending you will quickly recognize that the group contains a great mix of people all working towards smart solutions to this particular policy arena. 
I hope to see you at the next meeting August 13th at noon in the Capitol Board Room. I also hope this response resolved some of your concerns regarding the body of the commission.
Eric Ellis
Advisor to Lt. Governor Bell
State of Utah
>>> <> 7/17/2012 6:26 PM >>>

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