Attorney Margaret Stock is the most recent Alaskan to be named a MacArthur Fellow.
But at first, the 51-year-old thought the Sept. 3 call informing her about the honor might be a joke. That thought was fleeting, and as she talked to a MacArthur representative, she realized the award and the $625,000 “Genius grant” were genuine.
Stock, who has worked for Cascadia Cross Border Law’s Anchorage office since it opened July 1, has lived in Alaska since 1986, and practiced law here since 1993. She’s also retired from a 28-year career in the Army Reserve, which included a three-year active duty stint at Fort Richardson that originally brought her to Alaska.
“I was given a choice of three places — Panama, Korea or Alaska, and I picked Alaska,” Stock said.
The award recognizes the work she has done in combining her military background with immigration law, and influencing immigration and military policy.
Stock was recognized largely for her work on projects relating to military recruiting, citizenship and legal assistance for military members and families with immigration issues.
Stock’s work included a project called Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest, or MAVNI, that worked to enable the Army to recruit people in the United States legally, even if they didn’t have a green card.
After realizing that the Army was self-limiting its recruit pool with the green card requirement, Stock brought it to the attention of the Secretary of the Army in the fall of 2007, and eventually helped develop a pilot program to recruit other legal residents. She worked on the project in active-duty status for short, part-time stints for the better part of her final years of service. During some of that time, she was also teaching at West Point.
“It was a totally crazy couple of years of working on this project,” Stock said.
Stock’s work on it ended when she retired from the reserves in June 2010. That retirement is required after 28 years of service.
Stock called the MAVNI the “most creative thing I’ve ever done in my professional career.”
Stock said the project brought tangible benefits to the U.S., including saving money and giving the military a higher-quality pool to recruit from.
In the pilot program, the recruits had higher average test scores and degree attainment than their native-born peers joining the Army, which increased the service’s quality marks, Stock said.
The recruits have included the 2012 U.S. Army Soldier of the Year, and a winner of the Marine Corps Marathon.
“There were a whole lot of them like that, superstar types,” Stock said.
Although not every recruit was a good fit, “most of the people were exceptionally terrific candidates for the army,” she said.
Some Alaskans also joined through the program, including students studying at the University of Alaska Anchorage, and the children of small business owners, whose parents were here legally because of their businesses, but who no longer had a claim to stay in the U.S. once they reached adulthood.
“As an attorney, its just a cool thing professionally to think of something that no one else has thought of,” Stock said.
Stock’s other projects also reflect her ability to think creatively about what the military needs and how to improve immigration law.
She also founded a pro bono legal assistance program, called the AILAMAP, or the American Immigration Lawyers Association Military Assistance Program, and getting the Army, and then other branches of service to integrate the citizenship process into basic training. The U.S. has long offered military service members citizenship, but previously there was no set policy for when it happened.
Stock realized this, determined that it could be done more efficiently at basic training, and made that happen.
Stock said her work isn’t done.
The MacArthur Fellow designation comes with a $625,000 no-strings-attached award, which Stock said she’ll use to continue advocating for immigration and military issues.
Next, she wants to improve how military families are treated in the immigration process, work to help banished veterans, and help enable young people who immigrated to the U.S as children join the service.
Military families, which can include spouses or dependents who are not citizens, are treated differently throughout the country.
In Anchorage, Stock said the local Citizenship and Immigration Services office does a great job of helping families.
But that’s not the case everywhere.
Once, an office in the Midwest even refused to change an immigration status for a National Guard member, saying that wasn’t a branch of military service.
“I want to spend a lot of time trying to advocate for that,” Stock said.
Changing the climate nationwide will likely require a policy from the top. Although Former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano detailed a possible policy in a letter, but it was not made official, so it’s not followed.
“It takes a top down policy,” Stock said.
Stock’s path to immigration law, and eventually combining that with military policy, began with a call from Alaska Legal Services when she was a young lawyer.
“I got into immigration law because of this pro bono case,” Stock said.
Alaska Legal Services asked her to take on a pro bono immigration case — it was supposed to be a short, 10-hour, case — because she had taken an immigration law course in law school. She won the case, but it took much longer than expected, about 400 hours, and the time spent working on it piqued her interest in immigration law.
Then, she worked on several military-related cases. After Sept. 11, Stock said she began getting inundated with immigration questions, and the specialty took off.
“Things got a lot more difficult for immigrants serving in the military,” Stock said.
An interest in history has also helped foster that work.
Stock knew, as a student of history including research on her own family, that the U.S. has historically been dependent on immigrants to help provide the military workforce in times of war. Today, that’s at an all time low.
History also helped with the naturalization program. Stock knew that in the past, soldiers became citizens at basic training. Her work helped restore that practice.
The MacArthur Foundation recognizes a class of about 20 to 25 fellows each year. Past Alaskan recipients of the award include Katherine Gottlieb in 2004, Sven Haakanson in 2007 and Jill Seaman in 2009. There have been 873 awardees since the program began in 1981.
She spent about three years in active duty based at Fort Richardson, and then was released to go to law school at Harvard. By the time Stock left for the east coast, she had met her husband in Alaska, and planned to return. She came back for summers while in law school, and returned once she completed school.
She spent the remainder of her career in the reserves in Alaska, and retired from the Army reserve in 2010. Retired reserve members do not receive retirement pay until later in life, but do receive some military benefits, like the ability to shop on post, Stock said.
Stock has worked as an attorney for much of her career, although she has done additional stints of active duty to teach at West Point and work on projects for the military, including those for which she was honored. Although she had to spend time Outside for some of that work, she maintained a home in Alaska and her family stayed here.
“I love Alaska,” she said.