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,

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, 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).