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.