Universal representation—the idea that every immigrant facing deportation should have the right to a publicly funded lawyer if they cannot afford one—has gained significant momentum nationally since 2016. Universal representation programs are emerging in politically diverse jurisdictions of all sizes in red, blue, and “purple” states; in cities and counties along the coasts; and throughout the South and Midwest.

As immigration arrests and detention have soared in recent decades, families have been systematically separated and immigrants increasingly stripped of their rights, making them more vulnerable to deportation.[]See Module 1 of this toolkit for a description of how a series of federal immigration policies enacted since 1996 have increasingly criminalized immigration; Karen Berberich, Annie Chen, Corey Lazar, et al., Advancing Universal Representation: A Toolkit, Module 1: The Case for Universal Representation (New York: Vera Institute of Justice, National Immigration Law Center, and Center for Popular Democracy, 2018), 3-4, https://perma.cc/DX38-5XND. In response, communities throughout the country have launched legal representation programs as a last line of defense. In an especially polarized and divisive political climate, local communities and governments have led the way in putting forth new strategies that help stabilize and unify families, protect communities, and define local values. Universal representation programs are popular commonsense policy solutions, countering the injustice and disruption that federal immigration enforcement has brought to communities and ensuring access to due process and fairness for all people.

Together with broad public support for government-funded attorneys for immigrants, local appropriation of funds for universal representation programs is growing. This support is helping build momentum nationwide toward legislative proposals that establish the right to counsel for immigrants in deportation proceedings. As of this writing, more than 35 jurisdictions in 18 states have funded deportation defense programs, including those in the SAFE Network and the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP).[]For more information about the SAFE Network, see Vera Institute of Justice, “SAFE Network: Local Leaders Keeping Families Together and Communities Safe,” www.vera.org/safe-network. For more information about the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP), see “The New York Immigrant Family Unity Project: Universal Representation for Detained Immigrants Facing Deportation in Upstate New York,” www.vera.org/projects/new-york-immigrant-family-unity-project. Several states, including California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Washington have allocated state funding for deportation defense.[]For more information about New Jersey, see State of New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy, “Murphy Administration Delivers on Promise to Provide Legal Representation for Immigrants Facing Detention and Deportation,” press release (Trenton, NJ: State of New Jersey, November 19, 2018), https://perma.cc/HA3D-F33E. For more on Illinois, see Sophia Tareen, “Groups Launch $10M Legal Aid Plan for Immigrants, Ex-Inmates,” Associated Press, February 2, 2020, https://apnews.com/2b537f21460191e1b0d78be54c574c83. For more on New York, see State of New York, “Liberty Defense Project,” https://perma.cc/Y7GJ-RLZB. For more on California, see California Immigrant Policy Center, “One California: Immigrant Services Funding—Providing Immigration Assistance, Services for Citizenship and Support for Remedies from Deportation,” https://perma.cc/XJL6-A3QC. For more on Oregon, see Erika Bolstad, “Oregon Funds Program to Help Immigrants with Legal Aid,” Oregon Live, November 23, 2019, https://perma.cc/LBJ4-WMUX. For more on Washington, see State of Washington Governor Jay Inslee, “Inslee Announces $1.2 Million for Civil Legal Aid Funding to Northwest Immigrant Rights Project,” press release (Olympia, WA: Washington Governor Jay Inslee, June 20, 2018), https://perma.cc/GZF4-9XWW. These local, regional, and state programs are steadily creating a national movement toward the ultimate goal of a federal right to government-funded counsel for immigrants and a more equitable vision of justice.

Module2 Figure1 V4

Moving universal representation to the policy agendas of local and state governments depends on strategic advocacy, organizing, and communications campaigns. Because local and state budgets are facing heightened scrutiny due to the COVID-19 pandemic, holding government accountable through organized advocacy will be especially critical to this movement.

Like any campaign, effectiveness and success will depend on a variety of unique local factors. Although no formula can prescribe the strategies that will ultimately advance universal representation programs, advocates in many jurisdictions across the country have used tactics and strategies that provide invaluable lessons.

This module aims to provide insights and tools based on lessons from local and state campaigns. Some sections of this toolkit may be more helpful or applicable than others, depending on the context of each campaign. As more campaigns gain momentum, the exchange of strategies and lessons learned will help further the longer-term goal of federally funded universal representation nationwide.

The keys to a successful campaign include a clear strategy; achievable goals; the creation of a strong, diverse coalition that centers the voices and experiences of people directly impacted by immigration policies; and the development of short- and long-term policy objectives. Although every jurisdiction is different, the following guiding principles can help launch campaigns in support of universal representation.

Create a campaign plan.

A clear campaign plan will turn the vision of universal representation into achievable strategic action. The plan will help guide a coalition in outlining strategy and tactics, including communications, legislative actions, organizing efforts, and research and advocacy materials. (Detailed recommendations for building strong, diverse coalitions are covered later in this section.) At the outset, organizations and coalitions working together for universal representation should lay out explicit goals, assess resources, and identify the people the campaign is trying to influence (“targets”). The key components of a campaign plan are described in further detail throughout this module; activities typically overlap and do not need to be completed in a specific sequence.

Develop clear policy objectives.

The political analysis for launching, sustaining, and expanding a universal representation program will vary from one jurisdiction to another. Based on the policy objectives and local landscape, a city may seek a local budget strategy for new or expanded funding, while a state may seek simultaneous legislative and budget strategies. There is no one template for success, but a number of best practices can build strong support for programs and are applicable even across politically, geographically, demographically, and economically diverse regions.

In many jurisdictions—such as Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, and Philadelphia—working groups created to study the problem of lack of access to counsel used their findings to develop clear policy goals. Working groups can help accurately describe the scope of the problem in a particular immigration court, detention facility, or community, as well as determine the resources needed for a pilot or a fully funded universal representation program. A working group may consist of members of the legal community, legal service providers, directly impacted individuals, law clinics, researchers, and other community leaders.

Identify key decision makers and understand budget and legislative avenues.

At the outset of any campaign, coalitions should have a clear understanding of the political landscape, identify the relevant decision makers and the strategies that may advance or expand universal representation, and have a realistic timeline for the process ahead. With this information and analysis, it is important early on to identify legislative and/or other government champions who can lend support to the campaign. Anticipating barriers and ways to overcome them is often critical to a campaign’s success.

To ensure that the campaign’s work is strategic, timely, and effective, coalitions should work with their government champions to understand the timing of local legislative and/or appropriations processes. Government champions can help assess the feasibility and availability of various mechanisms that could be used to ensure public funds for universal representation programs, such as advocacy for stand-alone budget appropriations; administrative action; city, county, or state legislative action; or some combination thereof. One way to help ensure security and support throughout the process is to work toward inclusion in an executive budget proposal. But the route to funding will depend on local political support, budget priorities, and climate—as well as on timing. In any local or state budget process, it is important to be clear about a specific funding request and to build a coalition with ample time before the jurisdiction considers proposed budgets and begins budget deliberations.

As part of the advocacy strategy, campaigns may also want to identify other key decision makers and develop relationships with them early on. Although government champions of universal representation will be vital to the process of identifying decision makers and pressure points, campaigns should consider partnering with lobbyists, other local organizers, or government insiders (such as legislative staff) too. These allies can provide concrete answers to important questions and strategize about ways to engage public officials for purposes of both initial funding and long-term sustainability.

Campaigns should consider the following key questions on the budget front.

  • Are there specific budget priorities or considerations (such as a deficit) during the upcoming cycle or year?
  • How do budget allocations actually work?
  • When do budget negotiations take place?
  • When and through what forums can the public provide direct input on the budget, such as through committee hearings or legislative visits?
  • When are proposed budgets released?
  • When are proposed budgets drafted?

Convene diverse coalitions to build a strong foundation.

The initial catalyst for a campaign may vary by location. Although some campaigns are established through community-based advocacy, others take root when government champions of publicly funded representation programs seek to protect and elevate the voices of their immigrant constituents.[]Examples of government-initiated programs—including those in Baltimore and Columbus, Ohio—illustrate the success that campaigns can achieve when elected officials advocate for universal representation along with legal service providers and community groups. Regardless of its origins, a ground-up community-based campaign should center the voices and experiences of those directly impacted and involve broad coalitions of legal service providers, immigration advocates, and other allies. These components are essential to a campaign’s long-term sustainability and viability and can prove critical in weathering potential future opposition.

Coalition partners may include the following participants.

  • Legal service providers and law school professors or other personnel who can share information, materials, and important context about local immigration court policies and practices, collect client data, and provide case studies about the difference representation makes for their clients.
  • Allied groups and constituencies, such as unions, faith leaders, business leaders, education leaders, civil rights organizations, domestic violence survivors and their allies, LGBTQ+ advocates, criminal justice reform activists, racial justice activists, and diverse communities impacted by immigration enforcement that can provide broad political insight and strategy. Also consider reaching out to and working with unlikely allies and creative coalitions.
  • Elected officials and their staff who can serve as champions for the initiative, provide additional insight into the local political processes and dynamics, and help cultivate support among their colleagues.
  • Community leaders and community-based organizations with proven track records of established trust in local immigrant communities who can communicate the needs and potential impact of a universal representation program locally and can mobilize directly impacted community members to engage in and demonstrate support for the campaign.
  • Advocates and/or organizers with experience working on local campaigns, established political access and relationships, communications expertise, lobbying and/or grassroots organizing experience, and an understanding of local legislative and budget processes and political dynamics.
  • Community members who have experienced detention and removal proceedings and can speak to the difference it made to have skilled attorneys representing them. Also consider involving the family members and loved ones of people who are or were once detained or were deported.[]If they speak out, U.S. citizen family members may feel less at risk of retaliation from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement than other community members do. And loved ones of people in the community who have already been deported without representation may also speak about the impact of having versus not having counsel.

Successful coalitions often have a clear strategy, unified principles, and explicit advocacy goals. Diverse coalitions involve various stakeholders and interests, so it is common that coalition members and organizations are not completely aligned in their respective goals. Although this may pose some challenges, such differences, diverse networks, and varied perspectives can ultimately strengthen a campaign by securing new or unlikely government supporters and broadening a campaign’s reach.

Successful coalitions are inclusive and intersectional. They represent a wide range of voices and interests (such as labor unions, tenant organizations, criminal justice reform advocates, and gender justice groups), and include members who represent or work with people who are most directly affected by detention and deportation (such as LGBTQ+, Latine, Black, and Southeast Asian immigrants), as well as with social justice allies.[]This report uses the word “Latine” as a gender-neutral alternative to the term “Latinx” that is easier for all Spanish speakers to pronounce, regardless of dialect. For more information, see Andrea Merodeadora, “Latino, Latinx, Latine,” Medium, August 7, 2017, https://perma.cc/3Q82-7F5L.

Center directly impacted community members throughout the campaign.

The views of those who have personally experienced detention and navigated the complex immigration court system are essential and contribute crucial firsthand perspectives to the campaign. Directly impacted community members have the most compelling vantage point on the critical need for a universal representation program and humanize the issue for policymakers. Their participation is vital to the long-term political viability of deportation defense programs. Community members can also speak to the difference it makes to have an experienced attorney in immigration court—not only on the legal outcome of a case, but also by providing the psychological stamina to continue to fight, particularly for people who are detained and isolated from their support networks.[]The “Using Media and Other Communications to Support Advocacy” section offers more ideas about how coalitions can center the voices and perspectives of directly impacted community members in local campaigns. In addition to sharing their personal experiences during legislative visits, hearings, or media interviews, directly impacted community leaders should be included and elevated in coalition leadership and decision-making.

Campaigns should also elevate the voices of directly impacted community members who have had criminal convictions. Their experiences are critical to universal representation programs and advocacy, in part because they help shift the public narrative and counter the damaging sentiment that some immigrants are more deserving of due process and representation than others. Their personal stories can help illustrate the nuanced reality of those who have been involved in the criminal legal system; they are often long-time residents with deep ties to the local community who have been subject to systemic racism and the overpolicing of people of color. This picture is at odds with the harmful, oversimplified stereotypes to which people are often reduced. Those who have experienced both the immigration and criminal legal systems—such as Alex Lora, a former client of Brooklyn Defender Services whose case helped create law in a federal court of appeals before being overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018—are powerful spokespeople who can talk about the need for those with justice-system involvement to have access to deportation defense.[]For more about Alex Lora’s case, see Brooklyn Defender Services, “Prolonged Detention: A Short Documentary on Our Landmark “Lora” Case,” November 23, 2016, https://perma.cc/ZG5G-SGYJ. The precedent established in Mr. Lora’s case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and overturned. See Jennings v. Rodriguez, 138 S. Ct. 830 (2018).

A key part of navigating the political landscape is to identify people outside the process—in government and civil society—who can help persuade primary decision makers and elevate the campaign. Campaigns should research the priorities, interests, and needs of decision makers to determine who and what might motivate them to support the campaign. In addition to decision makers, campaigns should cultivate other allies and coalition members who can offer support to the campaign. Potential allies may include retired immigration judges, law enforcement officials, prosecutors, criminal justice reform advocates, faith leaders, educators, union leaders and union members, business leaders, and experts working with nonpartisan state fiscal policy groups. Engaging organizations that represent these allies, such as a police chiefs’ association or a chamber of commerce, can be particularly effective. These partners can be engaged to express support publicly—such as through testimony or sign-on letters—and/or can be engaged “behind the scenes,” such as through private outreach with targeted elected officials. Whether privately or in public, this is a way to involve diverse messengers to convey support for universal representation and encourage decision makers to become more interested in the topic or address this as a key priority in their legislative agenda.

Use a wide range of strategies to advocate directly with elected officials.

Engaging policymakers and elected officials is critical to advancing any universal representation campaign. Some key strategies for advocating with government include the following.

  • Build relationships with the staff of elected officials and regularly engage with them about the issues of detention and the immigration court system. These staff members often play key “insider” roles and can be critical allies.
  • Demonstrate that the coalition adds value by sharing fact sheets, resources, data, case studies, and other useful information with staff—rather than simply coming in with an immediate ask.
  • Put local elected officials in touch with government champions from other jurisdictions who have successful programs so they can share their experiences.
  • Testify at public legislative and budget hearings, at which coalition members can submit relevant testimony about the issue. Directly impacted individuals should be involved, to represent the community’s priorities.
  • Organize briefings with a government champion about universal representation for elected officials and their staff or for certain groups, such as Black and Latine legislative caucuses.
  • Organize a delegation of elected officials to visit immigration court and/or a detention center and witness firsthand the court hearings of those currently detained (the “detained docket”), exposing lawmakers to the harsh realities of what it looks like to navigate the immigration system while held in federal custody.
  • Meet with candidates during an election cycle to make universal representation an issue that candidates feel they must take a position on or else face consequences over.
  • Elevate data and stories of client constituents about the impact of detention and deportation in an elected official’s district to make the case that universal representation would have a positive impact.
  • Use public opinion research that points to significant support for government-funded lawyers in immigration court.[]To see the results of public opinion polling in select U.S. jurisdictions, visit Vera Institute of Justice, “Taking the Pulse,” March 2020, https://www.vera.org/publications/taking-the-pulse.
  • Elevate government champions and mobilize communities by engaging in grassroots organizing tactics that build public pressure and attention, including rallies, petitions and other digital advocacy tools, press conferences, protests, canvassing, and action days.

Analyze and understand the broader context.

Campaigns for universal representation take place within a larger local, state, and national context. It is important for advocates to develop an analysis of the political context at each level of government and identify other pending priorities to help frame the campaign’s political reality and strategy. Depending on the circumstance, the context may prove challenging or advantageous—or some combination thereof. For example, the election of new leadership at the local or state level may open the door to advancing a campaign much faster than anticipated, especially if the coalition has done the work before the election to encourage candidates to support universal representation as a priority issue. Similarly, harsh immigration enforcement priorities and anti-immigrant rhetoric at the federal level can sharpen the sense of urgency among advocates and lawmakers to support local initiatives that protect community members who are at risk of removal. For example, cities and states have increasingly become the front line of defense for immigrant communities since the 2016 presidential election. But even a pro-immigrant political environment does not guarantee success, and coordination with other policy priorities for immigrant rights is essential.

Using election cycles to secure funding

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Assuming that the campaign gains some momentum, the process of negotiating the shape and scope of the universal representation program with elected officials will also pick up. Stakeholders may have conflicting visions of what the program should look like, such as how much money to allocate for deportation defense, who should be eligible for the program, and who should provide the services. Government decision makers also may disagree about these issues; for example, there could be differences between a mayor and the city council, a governor and the state legislature, or among an executive office’s staff members.

Because navigating these interests can be complicated, it is important for the coalition to be as unified as possible in its goals, messaging, and political bottom line. Even if the coalition must ultimately make concessions, a clear and transparent decision-making process will help ensure consistent external messaging during negotiations, making it likelier that the result is an inclusive program that meets the community’s long-term needs and interests. And to keep the coalition united and help its members negotiate effectively, it is critical to have a vision of a pathway to a scalable, sustainable universal representation program.

Focus on a program that is truly universal, avoids due process exclusions, and upholds an equitable vision of justice.

The universal representation model of deportation defense is described in more detail in Module 1.[]See Module 1 of this toolkit for more information about the importance of avoiding due process exclusions and for a description of how a truly universal representation model seeks to achieve racial equity. Berberich, Chen, Lazar, et al., Advancing Universal Representation, Module 1, 2018. Continue reading this module for more recommendations about how to communicate with policymakers and members of the public about these issues. Several of the model’s key tenets help ensure that representation comports with this vision for a public defender system in immigration court: that every person facing deportation has access to a government-funded attorney to represent them and that when resources are limited, representation is prioritized for people who are detained.[]Ibid., 6.

To advance universal representation, campaigns should be prepared to advocate against due process exclusions—eligibility criteria that make people with certain criminal convictions ineligible to receive representation through the program. Also known as “carve-outs,” such exclusions run counter to a truly universal representation model, which posits that every human being fundamentally deserves due process in a court of law.

Deportation defense programs that permit exclusions based on contact with the criminal legal system perpetuate racial discrimination and disparate outcomes, denying access to justice for people and communities of color.[]Ibid., 16-17. As with the country’s justice policies and practices, structural racism is intrinsic to its immigration system; universal representation ensures that legal services are not denied to people who may need them the most because of their involvement with the criminal legal system.[]For a description of systemic racism in the criminal legal system, see Elizabeth Hinton, LeShae Henderson, and Cindy Reed, An Unjust Burden: The Disparate Treatment of Black Americans in the Criminal Justice System (New York: Vera Institute of Justice, 2018), https://perma.cc/5RW5-QYYS. For information about systemic racism in the immigration system, see Juliana Morgan-Trostle, Kexin Zheng, and Carl Lipscombe, The State of Black Immigrants—Part II: Black Immigrants in the Mass Criminalization System (New York: Black Alliance for Just Immigration and NYU School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic, 2016), https://perma.cc/NHM8-CFFZ.

It is critical that coalitions maintain a strong commitment to preserving a universal representation model and be prepared to articulate the reasons for that commitment to a variety of stakeholders. If due process exclusions are raised during the negotiation process, campaigns may consider adopting the following additional strategies.

  • Discuss and clarify the campaign’s position on due process exclusions. When people have disparate views about carve-outs, the coalition might host forums involving members who can discuss the campaign’s position. Strive to reach consensus against exclusions and establish core principles in case these issues come up with legislators and other government officials. The more prepared the coalition is to handle this discussion and the more unified members are about its principles, the harder it will be for lawmakers to create programs that are not truly universal.
  • Allow coalition members to express misgivings they may have about demanding universality. If unity isn’t possible, take the time to address people’s concerns as a group so that the coalition goes into conversations with policymakers having agreed on its principles. If that isn’t possible, coalition members should discuss beforehand how to minimize any challenges that may result from people’s differing perspectives so that they don’t jeopardize the campaign’s goals.
  • Partner with advocates for racial justice, victims’ rights, and criminal justice reform. These leaders, organizations, and advocates can help push back against carve-outs by addressing specific concerns about public safety and promoting the importance of justice reform. Engage these allies in regular dialogue about the interconnectedness of the two systems and draw on their expertise, political acumen, and relationships. Invite them to weigh in on the campaign’s strategy and messaging and offer to provide similar support to their campaigns.
  • Prepare responses to address specific reasons stakeholders may have for proposing exclusions. The underlying concerns motivating people’s support for due process exclusions are often political and stem from negative media attention and myths of immigrant criminality.[]Anna Flagg, “Is There a Connection Between Undocumented Immigrants and Crime?” May 13, 2019, The Marshall Project, https://perma.cc/WK44-HA5P. When this is a significant concern, it may be a good idea for a campaign to engage several elected officials and other government champions to support the program and the universal representation model.
  • Prepare influential community members to speak out about the harms of immigration detention and the importance of due process and legal representation in immigration court. Potential validators include faith leaders, judges, public health experts, advocates for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, law enforcement officers, city councillors, state legislators, members of Congress, and/or influencers such as high-profile members of the local community.
  • Elevate the voices of people who have had criminal justice entanglement and have been affected by the immigration system, ensuring opportunities for them to share their stories and analysis and securing public forums for them to do so. In particular, seek out spokespeople in communities where elected officials are in favor of due process exclusions to help counteract that perspective.

If it becomes evident that the coalition will have to choose between a program with some due process exclusions or no program at all, its members should consider and discuss relevant factors, including these:

  • the prospect of eliminating the due process exclusion in the future (depending on political feasibility and the campaign’s financial bandwidth);
  • impact on local immigrants and families in need of representation;
  • the priorities of directly impacted people in the jurisdiction;
  • members’ priorities and the need to keep the coalition intact; and
  • relationships with elected officials and government champions.

A coalition may also consider ways to narrow the scope of the exclusion as much as possible, for example, by directing money from private sources to cover people who would be excluded by the publicly funded carve-out.

A media and communications strategy is crucial to supporting advocacy, mobilizing supporters and the public, and motivating policymakers about the issues that matter to their constituents. Media coverage often brings visibility to the need for and impact of universal representation and increases public pressure for a program. At the same time, campaigns should be prepared for negative media coverage by developing talking points and a rapid response plan. When done effectively, communications and media advocacy help illustrate why it makes sense—as both a matter of policy and a reflection of the community’s values—for jurisdictions to invest taxpayer dollars in universal deportation defense. An effective communications strategy will be in sync with—and a major component of—the overall advocacy strategy and timeline, including the development of communications materials and engagement with media professionals to influence lawmakers and target messaging in response to particular interests and concerns.

Tailor the campaign’s communication strategies to local circumstances.

As with legislative and budget strategies, it is important for coalition members to know how messaging will resonate within local jurisdictions and to prepare accordingly. Although some communication strategies have a proven track record of success across a variety of circumstances, others vary in their effectiveness depending on context. In addition to baseline messaging with broad appeal, be ready with targeted messaging for specific audiences. For example, the persuasiveness of some messages can depend heavily on a jurisdiction’s political leaning and local demographics—a message that generates support among progressives may prove wholly ineffective among conservatives, and vice versa. Many campaigns also take place in a busy news environment where multiple stories are competing for attention, so employing a range of strategies will help draw focus to the issues at hand.

Campaigns must be responsive to local dynamics and nimble in their communications approach. And though the messaging strategies presented in this toolkit are those demonstrated through research to have broad bipartisan appeal, the most effective campaigns should adapt their messaging based on local context and the community’s needs and interests.[]For example, as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in New York State, messaging about continued funding for NYIFUP and other immigrant legal services stressed that the need for representation was even more urgent in light of the dire public health risks for those who cannot socially distance in detention. See Vera Institute of Justice, “Amid COVID-19 Crisis, Vera Institute of Justice & Coalition for Immigrant Defense Appeal for Protections in State Budget for New York’s Most Vulnerable Immigrants,” press release (New York: Vera Institute of Justice, March 31, 2020), https://perma.cc/93E6-ZDUL.

Rely on messaging that reflects shared values.

Values-based messaging is particularly effective when articulating the importance of universal representation. The results of Vera’s public opinion polling on access to lawyers for immigrants underscores this point.[]To see the results of public opinion polling in select jurisdictions, visit https://www.vera.org/publications/taking-the-pulse. At the core of the universal representation model is a belief that everyone is entitled to due process and to be treated fairly, justly, and with dignity under the law. The same values are long-standing American principles, even though the country has often failed to achieve these ideals. Campaign messaging should lead with and reflect these values, explaining how universal representation brings us closer to that vision and protects against violating these ideals.[]The Opportunity Agenda, “Tips for Talking Due Process & Immigration,” 2018, https://perma.cc/7TYL-9TDJ. Whenever possible, use evidence to demonstrate how heavily the scales of justice are tipped against unrepresented people in immigration court—particularly when they are detained—and the dramatic difference it makes when lawyers are involved. (For more details on using evidence in this way, see “Creating a data-driven campaign.”)

By putting universal representation in the context of the shared values of due process and fundamental fairness, advocates help the public and policymakers understand how issues core to the country’s democracy are at stake. Universal representation—and the broad support behind it—allows campaigns to start shifting the conversation about immigrants and immigration to fairness, justice, and investing in solutions that center people who are most affected. Campaigns can draw on data and other evidence to highlight the myriad ways that universal representation programs build collective strength, shared prosperity, family and community unity, and interconnectedness, countering the divisiveness that tends to characterize national political rhetoric about immigration.[]See The Opportunity Agenda, “Rise Above: Countering Fear-Based Messaging,” 2017, https://perma.cc/E5DT-7PGD; and “Creating a data-driven campaign” for examples of how to convey these benefits of universal representation programs. Framing universal representation as a widely supported and commonsense solution based on shared values may break through the federal government’s polarizing messages about immigration. It also enables the public to see how such programs can help communities thrive.[]For an example of how a campaign can highlight universal representation as a solution with broad support, see Vera Institute of Justice, “Vera Institute of Justice Shares New Polling Data Finding Overwhelming Support Among New Yorkers for Immigration Legal Services Funding,” press release (New York: Vera Institute of Justice, March 3, 2020), https://perma.cc/69JG-YKVN.

Prepare to address difficult topics.

Campaigns must be capable of both actively promoting the advantages of universal representation and anticipating potential opposition. When determining how and whether to respond to conflicting viewpoints, advocates should consider their audience. In any campaign, many members of the public can be persuaded to lend their support if presented with compelling evidence and messaging; others may be unrelentingly opposed. Communication strategies should primarily focus on generating support among audiences whose opinion can be changed, and campaigns should be prepared to respond to arguments that perpetuate stereotypes of immigrant criminality and are based on harmful myths.[]See The Opportunity Agenda, Vision, Values, and Voice: A Communications Toolkit (New York: The Opportunity Agenda, 2019), https://perma.cc/EA3Z-CB7V.

To stay on message, campaigns should develop talking points designed to counter negative coverage and opposing views that may arise without reinforcing them. Such talking points should underscore that universal representation upholds the shared values of due process and fairness, which benefit the broader community, and focus on the real human consequences of detention and deportation, particularly without access to counsel. It is important to state facts rather than repeating others’ inaccuracies. For example, research shows that “myth busting”—the practice of presenting a false claim with the purpose of explaining its inaccuracy—may serve to reinforce misconceptions rather than dismantle them.[]The Opportunity Agenda, “The Myth About Myth Busting,” May 3, 2011, https://perma.cc/7RUH-PNNJ. Instead, experts recommend leading with affirmative messages from the start (such as “Immigrants promote public safety”) instead of restating the myth or raising doubts (“Do immigrants cause crime?”) only to subsequently explain why a claim is false.

Reinforce the natural synergies among supporters of universal representation and other immigrant justice and social justice movements.

Critics may frame their opposition to universal representation by portraying it as being at odds with other important under-resourced programs, policies, and systems, such as education, criminal justice reform, or other pro-immigrant efforts. Use these opportunities to explain how these seemingly disparate issues are interconnected. Share evidence, for example, that illustrates how representation could offset the negative consequences experienced by the millions of school-age children with parents at risk of potential detention or deportation.[]Research shows that children experience trauma, diminished academic performance, and other negative consequences as the result of parental detention or deportation. See Kalina Brabeck and Qingwen Xu, “The Impact of Detention and Deportation on Latino Immigrant Children and Families: A Quantitative Exploration,” Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences 32, no. 3 (2010), 341-361, https://perma.cc/TL28-ZNVA. Also see Migration Policy Institute, “United States: Demographics & Social,” www.migrationpolicy.org/data/state-profiles/state/demographics/US#top. Draw parallels between the immigration and criminal legal systems, stressing that the immigration detention system is an extension of mass incarceration and the criminalization of communities of color in the United States.[]Morgan-Trostle, Zheng, and Lipscombe, The State of Black Immigrants Part II, 2016, 24-26.

When appropriate, the campaign’s communication strategy should demonstrate how genuine universal representation—a program without exclusions—is a natural extension of the fight for racial justice and criminal justice reform. The campaign might also link universal representation with racial justice movements by describing how immigration law has historically and intentionally been used to rid the United States of immigrants of color who were seen as undesirable and unwelcome members of the country’s social fabric.[]Alina Das, “Inclusive Immigrant Justice: Racial Animus and the Origins of Crime-Based Deportation,” UC Davis Law Review, 52, no. 1 (2018), 171-195, https://perma.cc/73WM-ZYSU.

Keep the focus on people who are directly impacted.

As mentioned earlier, campaigns should center the voices of those who would be most affected by universal representation programs.[]American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, American Friends Service Committee, Make the Road New Jersey, and Seton Hall Law School Immigrant Rights Clinic, The Meaning of Counsel in the Immigration System: New Jersey Case Stories (Newark, NJ; Philadelphia; Elizabeth, NJ; and South Orange, NJ: American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, American Friends Service Committee, Make the Road New Jersey, and Seton Hall Law School Immigrant Rights Clinic, 2018), https://perma.cc/8MMU-4FJF. Individuals and family members who have experienced detention and immigration court should be involved as the initiative’s ambassadors and strategic partners. They should also be consulted in the crafting and delivery of messages throughout a campaign—beyond the initial push for pilot funding. Their stories have a powerful impact and matter to the policymakers whose opinions campaigns are trying to influence. At the same time, it is important for these community members to be informed of any potential risks to their safety or that of their loved ones if they speak out, and campaigns should prepare a support system and contingency plan in case of retaliation from authorities.

The following tactics require time and resources, but are well worth the investment.

  • Identify clients and community members who can be spokespeople. There is no better way to understand the human impact of detention and the benefits of representation than to hear it from those who have been most directly affected. Reporters will always want to speak with people about what legal representation meant to them personally. Campaigns should consider partnering with clients and former clients who are interested in participating in advocacy efforts and may be willing to support the program publicly. Clients who have pending immigration cases should consult with their attorneys before interacting with media professionals; attorneys can advise people of any potential risks that may come with sharing their stories publicly.
  • Provide media training to prepare spokespeople for media opportunities and strategize about how to answer difficult questions. Before interviews or any kind of engagement with the press, support spokespeople by briefing them on the context of the interview and accompanying them if necessary or desired.
  • Connect individual stories to systemic problems and solutions to keep the focus on the root causes of the issue and the long-term vision of universal representation.[]See for example stories of community members and family members represented by the SAFE Network, which advances a universal representation model. Vera Institute of Justice, “The Human Impact of Universal Representation,” www.vera.org/the-human-impact-of-universal-representation. Clients and former clients are often well positioned to do this, as they have experienced the intersection of the criminal legal and immigration systems.
  • Explore ways for affected people to tell their stories on their own terms. Whenever possible, campaigns should consider providing resources that allow community members to share their own stories through written or visual media (such as personal essays, artwork, or video). By putting the power of content creation in the hands of those who are most directly impacted, community members gain agency and depend less on how others may tell their stories.

Develop relationships with local media professionals and keep them engaged.

Favorable national media attention on universal representation can help build momentum for campaigns, but local reporters are more likely to provide coverage and help the campaign thrive. Local media outlets provide direct avenues to influence community members, key decision makers, and elected officials in the jurisdiction where the campaign is underway.

From the onset of a campaign, identify which coalition members have media contacts and the capacity to engage in communications outreach. Develop relationships with reporters even before there is specific news to share, building mutual trust by getting to know their interests and offering to show them around immigration court. Tell trusted reporters about upcoming hearings, provide them with an advance on a report, and invest the time to educate them on immigration enforcement, detention, and immigration law. Whenever possible, provide concrete examples through stories and data to describe how people experience immigration enforcement locally. Consider setting up editorial board meetings and organizing press events at strategic moments during the campaign. By taking the time to educate and engage media professionals, advocates can lay the groundwork for the most informed and accurate reporting possible. Campaigns should also try to devote resources toward drafting and placing op-eds by key stakeholders and/or influential voices to promote the messages of the campaign directly. The resulting news coverage is also an opportunity to push elected officials and candidates to take a public position on the issue, something that can be used later as a tactic to help ensure their accountability.

Engage community and ethnic media outlets.

Communications strategies should not be limited to mainstream English-language media organizations. Whenever possible, engage community-based and ethnic media outlets that provide coverage in areas that have large populations locally. Research the outlets and the reporters who are most popular, respected, and credible among communities the campaign is trying to reach. The campaign may also need to establish an explicit strategy for these types of media outreach that includes creating materials in the community’s native language, identifying spokespeople who are fluent in it, and developing plans to hold either bilingual or separate press conferences.

Embrace the value of social media platforms and their multiplier effect.

Social media can be a significant asset for campaigns, serving as another means to actively engage and mobilize the public to support universal representation.

Communication via social media should follow many of the same principles that more traditional media strategies do. In addition, take the following steps.

  • Identify the influencers, validators, and other allies whose social media presence can help bring visibility to the campaign. Although influencers may be high profile, they do not need to be.[]The Opportunity Agenda, “The Case of the Cultural Influencers: Colin Kaepernick, Jimmy Kimmel, and #MeToo,” 2019, https://perma.cc/Y7AW-9VY5. Anyone with perceived authority or persuasive power over key local decision makers is an influencer. For example, think of the entities previously identified as important coalition members—community members, advocates, organizers, and ally groups—as influencers who may have their own social media presence.
  • Invest the time to plan a social media strategy as early as possible. As with any other element of the campaign, plan ahead. Invest the time well in advance of important moments—such as crucial hearings or the release of an article, op-ed, or advocacy brief—to think through the messaging strategy and build a relationship with influencers, validators, and allies early on, well before asking them to promote the campaign’s messages.
  • Use any and all of the coalition’s social media platforms to lift up the work of others. The strongest relationships are mutually beneficial. Be a good ally to influencers and related campaigns by amplifying their messages. When appropriate, view these as opportunities to reinforce the interconnectedness between universal representation and other issues of importance.

Strategies for communications and media advocacy

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Evidence comes in many forms. Although the experiences of directly impacted people should set the tone and direction of any universal representation campaign, the campaign can supplement their perspectives with other types of evidence that may be persuasive to certain audiences. Research and data—both qualitative and quantitative—are crucial for demonstrating the need, scope, and importance of legal representation in immigration court. Even though more research is necessary to form a truly comprehensive understanding of the wide array of short- and long-term effects that universal representation has on people and their families—and on communities, courts, and the immigration system as a whole—a variety of publicly available data sources, described in further detail below, can help advance the campaign’s mission.[]To see examples of publications that use data to demonstrate the impact of universal representation programs, visit the SAFE Network’s website at https://www.vera.org/safe-network#publications-videos.

Notably, researchers have approached the study of representation’s impact in two ways. Some studies examine the effect of any representation on a bond proceeding or immigration court case, whereas other research (such as that derived from NYIFUP or the SAFE Network) analyzes the effects of universal representation in particular.[]Examples of studies that analyze the effect of any representation include Ingrid V. Eagly and Steven Shafer, “A National Study of Access to Counsel in Immigration Court,” University of Pennsylvania Law Review 164, no. 1 (2015), 1-91, https://perma.cc/7J65-CZCM; and Emily Ryo, “Detained: A Study of Immigration Bond Hearings,” Law & Society Review 50, no. 1 (2016), 117-153, https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2628962. Examples of research on universal representation, in particular, include Jennifer Stave, Peter Markowitz, Karen Berberich, et al., Evaluation of the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project: Assessing the Impact of Legal Representation (New York: Vera Institute of Justice, 2017), https://perma.cc/BAB5-JFKG; and Vera Institute of Justice, Due Process for All: Evidence from Year 2 of the SAFE Network (New York: Vera Institute of Justice, 2019), 2, https://perma.cc/ACC7-4JRS. Other studies have explored the impact of legal information programs that do not provide full-scope representation, including Nina Siulc, Zhifen Cheng, Arnold Son, et al., Legal Orientation Program: Evaluation and Performance and Outcome Measurement Report, Phase II (New York: Vera Institute of Justice, 2008), https://perma.cc/ZL8P-VBG9; and Eileen Sullivan, Felinda Mottino, Ajay Khashu, et al., Testing Community Supervision for the INS: An Evaluation of the Appearance Assistance Program (New York: Vera Institute of Justice, 2000), https://perma.cc/K4NT-KSPY. Although most audiences may not be interested in these distinctions when it comes to prior research, on some occasions—such as when referencing legal outcome rates—it may make sense to be explicit about the model of representation studied in order to avoid setting unrealistic or inaccurate expectations. But although most available data does not distinguish among the models of representation, any evidence that speaks to the impact of counsel can be used to highlight the potential benefits of universal representation.

Evidence from studies that relied on social science and statistical methods is often important to help government officials and other stakeholders advocate for public investment in a program. Over the long term, relevant research—along with original data collected by programs that receive funding to represent clients—can help ensure sustainability and programmatic growth once initial funding is secured. This combination can help illustrate the individual and system effects of representation using national social science research and local findings. And because different stakeholders will respond to different arguments in support of universal representation, it can also help to provide stories that demonstrate clients’ and other community members’ experiences and perspectives. Such stories give salient examples that may prove more memorable and more persuasive than statistics alone. Together with the data, the campaign can turn these stories into research reports or fact sheets that support local advocacy.[]For an example of a fact sheet in support of universal representation programs, see Vera Institute of Justice, Support Universal Representation: SAFE Network 101 (New York: Vera Institute of Justice, 2020), https://perma.cc/4UN2-S4UQ.

Educate stakeholders about the immigration system and demonstrate the need for representation.

Research shows that most people in the United States lack understanding about how the immigration system really works, making it difficult for them to evaluate the efficacy of various policies.[]Michael Baran, Nathaniel Kendall-Taylor, Eric Lindland, et al., Getting to “We”: Mapping the Gaps Between Expert and Public Understandings of Immigration and Immigration Reform (Washington, DC: FrameWorks Institute, 2014), https://perma.cc/T285-KLK5. Lacking the requisite knowledge, people will fill in gaps in their understanding by making assumptions—implicitly or explicitly—that may be untrue and even harmful. Advocates can cite credible research and data to help educate stakeholders about the realities of the immigration system. For example, many stakeholders may be surprised to learn how many people—even those with lawful immigration status—are still vulnerable to deportation.[]Migration Policy Institute, “U.S. Immigrant Population and Share over Time, 1850-Present,” www.migrationpolicy.org/programs/data-hub/charts/immigrant-population-over-time?width=1000&height=850&iframe=true. Others may need to hear about the potentially dire consequences to understand the life and liberty interests at stake in deportation proceedings. Taking the time to educate stakeholders about these key issues helps shift the public narrative and decreases the likelihood that people will make inaccurate assumptions or draw ill-informed conclusions.

One crucial starting point for stakeholder education is explaining the current landscape and need for legal representation. Vera’s fact sheet on the importance of representation, its Evaluation of the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project, and the numerous research studies cited in Module 1 of this series articulate the myriad reasons that representation is so urgently needed, particularly for people who are detained.[]Karen Berberich and Nina Siulc, Why Does Representation Matter? The Impact of Legal Representation in Immigration Court (New York: Vera Institute of Justice, 2018), https://perma.cc/NTM6-F8UN; Stave, Markowitz, Berberich, et al., Evaluation of the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project, 2017; and Berberich, Chen, Lazar, et al., Advancing Universal Representation, Module 1, 2018. Campaigns seeking more localized information can visit the website for Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), which regularly receives data on all removal cases processed through the nation’s immigration courts.[]See the TRAC website at https://trac.syr.edu/immigration/. TRAC’s series of interactive data tools and short reports is useful for accessing immigration court data, including representation rates and case volume, at the local or national level. Its website makes immigration court data accessible to people who do not have training in statistics or social science research methods.

Others may look to partner with a university or reputable research institution to conduct original statistical analysis of immigration court data, which the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) now makes available on its website.[]As of December 2019, the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) has made certain “frequently requested” agency records available—including data from its Case Access System for EOIR database—at www.justice.gov/eoir/frequently-requested-agency-records. Several campaigns, for example, those in California and the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, have produced original analyses in partnership with such institutions.[]For more information, see California Coalition for Universal Representation, California’s Due Process Crisis: Access to Legal Counsel for Detained Immigrants (June 2016), https://perma.cc/GL55-9S5F; and Maggie Corser, Access to Justice: Ensuring Counsel for Immigrants Facing Deportation in the D.C. Metropolitan Area (Brooklyn, NY: Center for Popular Democracy, 2017), https://perma.cc/DG8H-U2EN. Although such partnerships will probably not be feasible for many campaigns, they can prove fruitful when circumstances permit.

Present practical solutions that reflect the positive impact of representation.

Once stakeholders have the information they need to more fully understand the scope of the challenges people face in the immigration court system, direct their attention toward concrete ways to resolve the problems that exist. It may be helpful to frame these problems as challenges, then offer pragmatic solutions that can bring about meaningful change, rather than fueling a sense of doubt or pessimism that the situation is too great to be overcome.[]Baran, Kendall-Taylor, Lindland, et al., Getting to “We,” 2014, 30, 31, and 39.

Research can go a long way toward demonstrating that universal representation is a practical, feasible way to empower clients, enhance due process, and counter the injustices of immigration court. For example, qualitative data collected through client interviews can highlight the value of representation in bringing dignity and a sense of empowerment to clients—key tenets of due process. The aforementioned research also consistently demonstrates the effectiveness and practicality of representation by showing that it helps clients remain in the United States and access the rights afforded to them under the law.

But although representation is inextricably connected to “wins” in legal cases, court outcomes alone do not fully or adequately measure the genuine importance of representation. Rather, the true “success” of universal representation is the advancement of due process and justice, and empowering clients to actively and meaningfully participate in their own legal cases, regardless of the end result. Although the impact of representation on legal outcomes will remain important for lobbying and advocacy, campaigns should consistently emphasize its critical role in restoring due process and human dignity.

Research tip: Data on case outcomes

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Refer to data that supports shared core values and demonstrates impacts beyond the courtroom.

Research from the social sciences provides lessons for communicating effectively about issues of social change. As mentioned previously, research suggests that invoking shared core values such as fairness, justice, and dignity helps bring about change.[]The Opportunity Agenda, Vision, Values, and Voice, 2019, 14-19. Public opinion polling shows overwhelming support for government-funded counsel in immigration court across party lines and political ideologies, suggesting that universal representation and the values it encompasses are core beliefs.[]To see the results of public opinion polling in select jurisdictions, visit https://www.vera.org/publications/taking-the-pulse. As an example, Oregon’s Defend Everyone report uses a similar framing technique, putting these shared values at the center of the authors’ argument for universal representation.[]Steven Manning, Leland Baxter-Neal, Lindsay Jonasson, et al., Defend Everyone: Creating the Equity Corps of Oregon to Provide Universal Representation (Portland, Oregon: Innovation Law Lab, 2018), 4-6, https://perma.cc/75PP-WKBY.

Similarly, advocates can rely on several data sources to convey the myriad ways in which immigrants are integral to communities and society. For example, advocacy reports from New Jersey and New York State demonstrate these points well, referencing research studies and statistics to make projections about the economic benefits of legal representation.[]See Erika Nava, Legal Representation in Immigration Courts Leads to Better Outcomes, Economic Stability (New Jersey Policy Perspective, 2018), https://perma.cc/LG65-DHHA; and Center for Popular Democracy, Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights, Cardozo School of Law, and Make the Road New York, The New York Immigrant Family Unity Project: Good for Families, Good for Employers, and Good for All New Yorkers (Brooklyn, New York: Center for Popular Democracy, 2013), https://perma.cc/27D6-XPB8. Advocates looking to tailor their information locally can turn to other publicly available data sources, such as the Migration Policy Institute’s (MPI) Migration Data Hub and New American Economy’s research.[]For more information, see Migration Policy Institute, “Migration Data Hub,” www.migrationpolicy.org/programs/migration-data-hub; and New American Economy, “Home,” https://www.newamericaneconomy.org/. For example, Vera’s profiles of the foreign-born population in each SAFE Network jurisdiction illustrate several ways that immigrants are woven into the fabric of local communities.[]To read these community profiles by jurisdiction, see www.vera.org/publications/safe-network-profiles. Taken together, the kinds of statistics these organizations gather and analyze help convey that everyone in the country is negatively affected by policies and practices that harm immigrants.

Although the data sources referenced throughout this module may not always be directly compatible with one another—for example, many cover different time periods, populations, and jurisdictions—they share themes and similar findings that collectively speak to the wide array of proven and potential impacts associated with representation.

Research tip: Data on immigrants as community members

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Collect original data once the program starts as evidence to sustain and expand funding.

Although the use of publicly available information may be sufficient to obtain funding for universal representation initially, it is often important to collect original data once the program begins. It is best to establish a plan for data collection as soon as possible, ideally before representation has begun, because it can prove challenging to backtrack later to gather client data. Such data, often including statistics and client stories, is useful for articulating the program’s successes locally and ensuring accountability to funding bodies and other stakeholders.

Although some funding entities may require only basic data reporting (such as the number of clients served), campaigns should consider whether those minimum requirements will be adequate to sustain or expand the program over time. The same kinds of arguments that helped secure funding in the first place—those referenced throughout this chapter—often help reinforce the value of a program once it is operational. In New York City, for example, quantitative data and compelling client stories helped a small NYIFUP pilot to grow incrementally into a fully funded, multimillion-dollar statewide program. Although the NYIFUP program likely benefited from a comprehensive evaluation report, campaigns of all sizes can use evidence to promote their program’s successes without using significant resources.

Research tip: Collecting original data

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As previously mentioned, some campaigns may seek to partner with universities or other research institutions that can study this subject, identify the types of data to gather, and establish protocols for data collection. These institutions will often be helpful in generating the kind of reliable, comprehensive research findings that can most credibly and effectively withstand opposition. But given that research partnerships are often unfeasible, even basic information can go a long way toward generating evidence of need and program impact.

Universal representation campaigns are part of the larger immigrants’ rights movement and should be grounded in shared values and goals. From the outset, coalition members should have an understanding of core allies’ other advocacy priorities. Key stakeholders may be working to advance other long-standing pro-immigrant policy goals—such as abolishing detention, eliminating collaboration between immigration authorities and local law enforcement, workers’ rights, or equal access to driver's licenses—and will want to gauge how and when to prioritize resources for universal representation without compromising momentum on other initiatives. Assessing the viability and timing of a universal representation campaign will depend on this broader understanding, something that will strengthen the effort by aligning interests from the start.

With few exceptions, building a grassroots effort led by those who are most impacted—in working toward any immigration policy goal—will help build power in the community and lay the groundwork for future campaigns. Advocates for universal representation can promote the critical importance of legal counsel while recognizing opportunities for collaboration with movements that also seek to foster due process and achieve other justice-related goals.

Because many political leaders on the local level have committed to protecting immigrant communities, it is important to think strategically and long term about how to make the most of opportunities to bring about broader change. Some advocates who have successfully demonstrated the harmful, inequitable, and often insurmountable repercussions of detention—on individuals, families, and communities—have made two demands: they have called for local funding for deportation defense and an end to local governments’ contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to house detainees.[]Cindy Knoebel, “Detention Abolition & Universal Representation Share Common Goal,” IMM Print: A Project of Freedom for Immigrants, February 7, 2019, https://perma.cc/67GR-T826. These are complementary and important goals that are potentially difficult to achieve contemporaneously in the same jurisdiction.

Although there is no one-size-fits-all solution to this dilemma, local coalitions working toward each objective should maintain open dialogue with one another, commit to taking direction from those most directly impacted, have clear decision-making processes in place, and work to find areas of alignment. Consider framing universal representation not only as an end goal in and of itself, but also as an important short- or medium-term objective to help achieve the longer-term goal of ending detention. For example, because legal representation is so strongly associated with high court-appearance rates, a system of genuine universal representation may help significantly reduce or entirely eliminate the perceived need for immigration detention.[]Berberich and Siulc, Why Does Representation Matter?, 2018, 2.

Ultimately, it is best to coordinate the fights to abolish immigration detention and to guarantee universal representation at the local, state, and national levels. The collective struggle for immigrants’ rights should strive to honor and achieve the visions of both movements, resulting in the right to counsel for immigrants facing deportation and the end of detention altogether. Achieving these outcomes can help shape an immigration system that is grounded in values of fairness and human dignity. The shared goal is to end an unjust mass enforcement and incarceration system.

Identifying the best path forward in jurisdictions with intersecting campaigns for immigration reform

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In jurisdictions that have successfully secured funding for a pilot project, the immediate focus becomes implementation and ensuring that legal service providers have the resources to begin the crucial work of providing legal representation. (The forthcoming Module 3 of this toolkit will focus on program design considerations.[]See the Advancing Universal Representation toolkit, https://www.vera.org/advancing-universal-representation-toolkit. ) Equally important at this nascent stage is developing a plan to ensure that the success (and limitations) of the program are thoroughly documented and communicated for purposes of longer-term sustainability.

To build a program from a pilot into a fully funded initiative, stakeholders—prospective or new ones, as well as longtime allies—need to be reminded why an investment in universal representation is a humane, fair, and fiscally sound policy.[]Berberich, Chen, Lazar, et al., Advancing Universal Representation, Module 1, 2018. Elected officials’ commitment to universal representation needs to be renewed with every legislative season, demonstrating why and how a program works can motivate them to continue to be champions of the issue. Beyond lawmakers, coalitions should communicate with the community members who fought hard to secure funding for the pilot, particularly about the amount of time necessary for the program to become operational and the projected number of people who will be served. Small-scale pilot programs mean that not everyone will receive representation right away, and this must be made explicit from the start.

From the program’s onset, communicate to all stakeholders what a pilot entails and the importance of continuing to develop more funding and/or more secure funding sources, including multiyear funding; funding allocated through executive budgets; or statutory changes guaranteeing the right to counsel. Throughout the program, discuss successes, challenges, and strategies for growth with coalition and movement allies. Strategies for expansion include many of the same elements that go into starting a program, as described previously, along with ongoing education of stakeholders to share updates on the program’s impact and highlights of the work; an evaluation process that closely tracks relevant data points, such as client demographics and outcomes; public events where people directly affected by the program are encouraged to share their experiences; and media coverage highlighting the stories of clients.[]See Stave, Markowitz, Berberich, et al., Evaluation of the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project, 2017; and Elvia Malagón, “Her Family Fled Pinochet’s Chile. She Could Be Sent Back, Despite Green Card, After Drug Addiction and Theft Convictions,” Chicago Tribune, November 14, 2019, https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-immigration-deportation-protest-chicago-charges-chile-20191114-5qvvukawbfb2ff7o44jp5pnuhm-story.html. It was through these strategies, and more, that the universal representation program in New York transformed from a $500,000 city-based pilot in 2013 to a fully funded program with more than $20 million in combined funding from the city and state by 2020.

The strategies necessary to build state and local universal representation campaigns will vary based on the region’s demographics, politics, social justice nonprofit infrastructure, and other characteristics. Each campaign should map out its local context from the inception and be prepared to face its share of challenges as it moves forward.

Strong campaigns have several common building blocks, which may include the following:

  • designing a campaign strategy that includes core elements of grassroots organizing, advocacy, communications, policy advocacy, research, and lobbying;
  • convening a diverse intersectional coalition that centers the voices and experiences of directly impacted community members;
  • grounding the campaign in principles such as due process and dignity for all;
  • leading with values-based messaging;
  • maintaining clear, direct communication among members of the coalition;
  • working in conjunction with other connected campaigns for immigrant rights and racial justice;
  • engaging with media—including the use of social media—to shape the public narrative; and
  • using data, research, and personal stories to demonstrate the need for and impact of universal representation.

By using these tools strategically, coalitions can build the power needed to achieve—and eventually expand—universal representation programs while broadly advancing immigrant and racial justice.


The authors would like to thank the following expert reviewers for their thoughtful input regarding this report: Sara Cullinane at Make the Road New Jersey, Nicole Polley Miller at the American Friends Service Committee, and Monica Ruiz, MSW, at Casa San Jose.

The authors would also like to acknowledge the following people at the Vera Institute of Justice, Center for Popular Democracy, and National Immigration Law Center for offering additional feedback and expertise: Shaina Aber, Maggie Corser, Mary Crowley, Arisel Garcia, Emily Gordon, Liz Kenney, Shayna Kessler, Julio López Varona, Kica Matos, Anne Marie Mulcahy, Natalia Renta, Nina Siulc, and Ram Subramanian. Thanks also to Jules Verdone for editing, Michael Mehler and Dan Redding for design, and Tim Merrill for proofreading.