Expanding the defense bar: “There are simply not enough of us.”

A major obstacle in the growing movement for universal representation is the dearth of immigration attorneys and other legal services staff. A recent article by Bill Ong Hing, a professor of law and migration studies at the University of San Francisco and general counsel at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, outlined the staggering gap between the need for representation and the capacity available through legal aid and pro bono attorneys and demanded federally funded representation of immigrants. He concluded, “There are simply not enough of us.”[]Bill Ong Hing, “It’s Time to Create a Right to an Immigration Attorney,” Slate, July 8, 2020, https://perma.cc/G9MS-L3T3. Although some observers have noted the growing interest in and demand by students in law schools for training on immigration law, the field is far from meeting that need.

One program working to fill the gap is Immigrant Justice Corps (IJC), the nation’s only fellowship program dedicated to increasing the quantity and quality of the nonprofit immigration bar. “The fellows, selected after a highly competitive and selective process, include many young people with lived experience of the immigration system [who] are bilingual or multilingual,” IJC executive director Jojo Annobil wrote. “Their talent, passion, and commitment allow them to provide intersectional, dedicated legal counsel to the communities they serve.”[]Jojo Annobil, executive director, Immigrant Justice Corps, September 16, 2020, via e-mail. Programs like IJC are important for building the foundation for a defense bar that is better trained and more effective. Expansion of these programs is necessary for realizing a fully funded national universal representation system.