MacArthur Fellow Margaret Stock: “People are Power.”

In an interview with 2013 MacArthur Fellow Margaret Stock, the immigration lawyer said something so simple it was profound: “People are power, but we’ve forgotten about that.” Leaders and followers, individuals and organizations — that’s a problem that Stock has worked for years to correct.

?????????????????????????????????????Stock’s passion happens to be a combination of two issues that the country is grappling with: immigration law and national security. Drawing upon her experience as an attorney, a lieutenant colonel in the Military Police Corps and a professor at West Point, Stock has dedicated herself to finding simple solutions for the nation’s millions of immigrants. She is best known for the successful implementation of the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program (MAVNI).

When the interviewer asked, “How did the Pentagon overlook the legal precedent they had to simplify both the immigration and the military recruitment process?” Stock talked about the power of transforming immigrants into citizens — in this case, through rewarding military recruitment with citizenship.

“I think people just forgot history, and they didn’t have immigration lawyers at the Pentagon. In World War One, immigrants were 20 percent of the force. During World War Two, we declared war on Germany, and the Germans in the country were supposed to be deported. But instead, we turned them into citizens and drafted them. After the Vietnam War, they created a regulation requiring people to get a green card before they joined the military, and that prevented people from joining. People are power. You don’t want to deport your manpower. But we’ve forgotten about that. “(Italics mine.)

Here, Stock demonstrates the pragmatic logic of a transformational leader. First, she reminded change agents of the truth (although it was a politically fraught observation from both sides of center, one side fighting for demilitarization of the economy, and the other fighting for hard immigration limitations!). Second, she didn’t back down. And third, she worked whether she got paid or not, applying grit (to use another Fellow’s term) to keep going until she simplified the system.

About her $625,000 award, Stock said it makes continuing her pro bono work easier for her and for her marriage:

“My husband was complaining about it because I was getting lots of phone calls. For MAVNI, I spent all my waking hours on it, and I wasn’t paid for a good majority of it. He would joke, “You got three Harvard degrees and can’t you figure out for them to pay for this?” When we were doing taxes, my income was miserably low for a lawyer doing the amount of work I did. I think my husband realized I was passionate about what I was doing, and he should put up with it.

The grant really is gratifying. I can’t explain it well. I didn’t think the MacArthur Foundation gave grants to people like me who work in bureaucratic trenches. The coolest project I’ve done in my life is MAVNI, but I didn’t think the MacArthur Foundation would ever find out about it. I did all the press for it, but I never wanted to be quoted.”

Innovation from the bureaucratic trenches — it’s important to look everywhere, not just at the CEOs and visible Magician Leaders who usually get the attention.

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