Advancing Universal Representation Initiative

Who we are


Vera’s Advancing Universal Representation initiative is driving a national movement for universal representation. Our goal is to establish a federal right to representation for all immigrants facing deportation.

Vera’s work builds on 15 years of experience pioneering universal representation programs, notably with the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) and at the federal level for certain adults and unaccompanied children. In 2017, Vera launched the SAFE (Safety & Fairness for Everyone) Network to accelerate the expansion of universal representation programs across the country. Since then, Vera has partnered with 23 jurisdictions, growing the number of publicly-funded deportation defense programs to more than 50 jurisdictions funding deportation defense across 21 states.

By fighting for universal representation, the initiative and its partners are keeping families together; disrupting the criminalization and deportation of immigrants and their families; and protecting people from the deplorable conditions of immigration detention.

Driving the movement for universal representation

We believe that every person facing deportation is entitled to high-quality, person-centered legal representation regardless of income, race, national origin, or history with the criminal legal system. We aim to make federally mandated universal representation a reality.

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Immigration Legal Services Funding Reallocated for FY2021:
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Fairness to Freedom Campaign

The Vera Institute of Justice and the National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA) have launched a campaign to push for legislation that establishes a universal right to federally funded legal representation for anyone facing deportation.

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What is universal representation?

Universal representation—a public defender system for people facing deportation—ensures that everyone has access to an attorney. By ensuring that everyone has equal access to due process, universal representation promotes a more equitable system for all. Universal representation is a key part of fighting for broader reforms to remedy the fundamentally cruel and unfair immigration system.

Why do we need universal representation?

Unlike  in the criminal legal system,  which guarantees the right to defense counsel under the Sixth Amendment,  there is no right to  appointed  counsel for people facing detention and deportation even though the stakes are just as high.

As a result, most immigrants facing deportation — particularly those in detention—go unrepresented, forced to defend themselves against the federal government alone. As a result, every day, people with a legal right to remain in the United States are deported simply because they could not afford an attorney to help defend that right before a judge.

The SAFE Network: A model for universal representation

The SAFE (Safety & Fairness for Everyone) Network is a unique collaboration of government leaders, legal service providers, and community-based advocates all working in partnership with Vera to stand up and grow publicly funded, universal representation programs at the state and local levels.

SAFE has highlighted the power and influence of local leadership. Through universal representation, government and community leaders are standing up for their immigrant neighbors and fighting for investments in communities, paving the way for federal action.

These programs enjoy widespread public support and offer a solution that will ensure that everyone is treated with basic fairness.

70
Percent of deportation cases where person has been in detention and is without a lawyer (FY 2016 or later)
1.6M
pending deportation cases in immigration court, as of January 2022
800,000
cases where people are people lacking legal representation as they face deportation, as of January 2022 (1)

(1) Source: "State and County Details on Deportation Proceedings in Immigration Court." TRAC Immigration. Data through January 2022, accessed February 2022. https://trac.syr.edu/phptools/immigration/nta/.

Contact us
Annie Chen Initiative Director achen@vera.org (212) 376-3168
Zameena Mejia Communications Manager, SAFE zmejia@vera.org

Take Action

A Movement Powered by a Growing Coalition

The Advancing Universal Representation initiative is powered by a growing coalition united by a shared belief that everyone deserves to be treated with fairness and human dignity.

Government officials, community leaders, organizations, and related entities seeking to get involved can endorse our values statement by filling out the form below. Names will be displayed publicly on the website following review by the SAFE team. To learn more about ways to become a SAFE partner, email SAFE@vera.org.

  • Mayor Darrell Steinberg*
    Sacramento, CA
  • Mayor Jim Kenney*
    Philadelphia, PA
  • Mayor Libby Schaaf*
    Oakland, CA
  • Mayor Michael Hancock*
    Denver, CO
  • Mayor Steve Adler*
    Austin, TX
  • Mayor Vicente Sarmiento*
    Santa Ana, CA
  • Assembly Member Catalina Cruz
    Queens, NY
  • Councilmember Damon Seils
    Carrboro, NC
  • Councilmember Deni Taveras*
    Prince George's County, MD
  • Councilmember Elizabeth Brown*
    Columbus, OH
  • Councilmember Eric Guerra*
    Sacramento, CA
  • Councilmember Helen Gym*
    Philadelphia, PA
  • Councilmember Jamie Torres*
    Denver, CO
  • Councilmember Katie Valenzuela*
    Sacramento, CA
  • Councilmember Mai Vang*
    Sacramento, CA
  • Councilmember Nelida Mendoza*
    Santa Ana, CA
  • Councilmember Robin Kniech*
    Denver, CO
  • Councilmember at Large Rolando R. Lavarro, Jr.
    Jersey City, NJ
  • Councilmember Zach Adamson
    Indianapolis City County, IN
  • Chris Kolb, Vice-Chair
    Jefferson County Public Schools, Louisville, KY
  • Igor Tregub, Commissioner
    Berkeley Rent Board, Berkeley, CA
  • Jennifer Mecozzi, West Board Member
    Buffalo Public Schools, Buffalo, NY
  • Megan Miller, Vice President
    Beloit Board of Education, Beloit, WI
  • Immigration Impact Unit, Committee for Public Counsel Services
    The Public Defender Agency of Massachusetts, Massachusetts
  • Office of Immigrant Affairs, City of Philadelphia*
  • Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, City and County of Denver*
  • Ramsey County Board of Commissioners*
    Ramsey County, MN
  • The City of Atlanta Office of the Public Defender*
  • The Law Office of the Cook County Public Defender*
    Chicago, IL
  • ABLE*
    Columbus, OH
  • Alianza NORCO*
    Fort Collins, CO
  • American Friends Service Committee - Colorado
    Denver, CO
  • American Gateways*
    San Antonio, TX
  • American Immigration Council
    Washington, D.C.
  • American Immigration Lawyers Association
    Washington, D.C.
  • Asian Americans United
    Philadelphia, PA
  • Asian Prisoner Support Committee*
    Oakland, CA
  • Bailey's Cafe
    Brooklyn, NY
  • Baton Rouge Immigrants Rights Coalition (BRIRC)
    Denham Springs, LA
  • Bend the Arc: Jewish Action Prince George's County
    Prince George's County, MD
  • Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI)*
    New York, NY
  • Black LGBTQ+ Migrant Project
    Oakland, CA
  • Brooklyn Defender Services
    New York, NY
  • CAIR Coalition*
    Washington, DC
  • California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation*
    Sacramento, CA
  • Caribbean Community in Philadelphia
    Philadelphia, PA
  • Casa de Esperanza: National Latin@ Network for Healthy Families and Communities
    St. Paul, MN
  • CASA de Maryland*
    Maryland
  • Catholic Legal Services, Archdiocese of Miami Inc.
    Miami, FL
  • Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, University of California, Hastings College of the Law
    San Francisco, CA
  • Center for Popular Democracy
    New York, NY
  • Centro de Trabajadores Unidos
    Chicago, IL
  • Centro Legal de La Raza*
    Oakland, CA
  • Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition*
    Denver, CO
  • Community Immigration Law Center*
    Madison, WI
  • Doctors For Camp Closure (D4CC)
    Potomac, MD
  • Dolores Street Community Services
    San Francisco, CA
  • Equal Access Legal Services
    Philadelphia, PA
  • Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project
    Los Angeles, CA
  • FIRN
    Columbia, MD
  • Farmworker and Landscaper Advocacy Project (FLAP)
    Chicago, IL
  • Freedom Network USA
    Washington, DC
  • Grassroots Leadership*
    Austin, TX
  • Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program
    Boston, MA
  • HIAS Pennsylvania
    Philadelphia, PA
  • Hispanic Federation
    New York, NY
  • Immigrant ARC
    Albany, NY
  • Immigrant Defenders Law Center*
    Los Angeles, CA
  • Immigrant Justice Corps
    New York, NY
  • Immigrant Legal Defense
    Oakland, CA
  • Immigrant Legal Resource Center
  • Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services*
    New Haven, CT
  • Interfaith Coalition on Immigration
    Minneapolis, MN
  • International Institute of Akron
    Akron, OH
  • International Rescue Committee*
    Dallas, TX
  • Juntos*
    Philadelphia, PA
  • Keep Tucson Together
    Tucson, AZ
  • Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition*
    Long Beach, CA
  • Louisiana Advocates for Immigrants in Detention
    Lafayette, LA
  • Mano Amiga
    San Marcos, TX
  • Mariposa Legal, program of COMMON Foundation
    Indianapolis, IN
  • Maryland Against ICE Detention
    Maryland
  • Maryland Legislative Coalition
    Maryland
  • Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition
    Boston, MA
  • Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
    Boston, MA
  • Mauritanian Network for Human Rights*
    Columbus, OH
  • Mississippi Center for Justice
    Jackson, MS
  • National Association of Social Workers - NYC Chapter
    New York, NY
  • National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel
    Montgomery, AL
  • National Immigrant Justice Center*
    Chicago, IL
  • National Immigration Law Center
    Los Angeles, CA
  • National Partnership for New Americans
    Chicago, IL
  • Nationalities Service Center*
    Philadelphia, PA
  • New Mexico Immigrant Law Center
    Albuquerque, NM
  • New Sanctuary Coalition
    New York, NY
  • New York Immigration Coalition
    New York, NY
  • NorCal Resist
    Sacramento, CA
  • Northeastern University Immigrant Justice Clinic
    Boston, MA
  • Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation (NMIC)
    New York, NY
  • Orange County Justice Fund
    Costa Mesa, CA
  • Paroled 2 Pride
    Columbus, MS
  • Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition
    Philadelphia, PA
  • Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center (PIRC)*
    Philadelphia, PA
  • Pima County Justice for All
    Pima County, AZ
  • Public Counsel
    Los Angeles, CA
  • RAICES*
    San Antonio, TX
  • Release MN8*
    St Paul, MN
  • RISE Coalition of Western Maryland
    Frederick, MD
  • Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network (RMIAN)*
    Denver, CO
  • Safe Passage Project
    New York, NY
  • Sanctuary DMV
    Washington, D.C./Maryland/Virginia
  • Spirit of the Sun
    Denver, CO
  • Student Clinic of Immigrant Justice
    Waltham, MA
  • Sueños Sin Fronteras de Tejas
    San Antonio, TX
  • Takoma Park Mobilization
    Takoma Park, MD
  • The Advocates for Human Rights*
    Minneapolis, MN
  • The Bronx Defenders
    Bronx, NY
  • The Rebuild, Overcome, and Rise (ROAR) Center at the University of Maryland, Baltimore
    Baltimore, MD
  • United Stateless
    Philadelphia, PA
  • Immigrant Justice Ministry Team of Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church
    Bethesda, MD
  • Law Office of Justin Tullius PLLC
    San Antonio, TX
  • Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom
    Silver Spring, MD
  • Mayor Darrell Steinberg*
    Sacramento, CA
  • Mayor Jim Kenney*
    Philadelphia, PA
  • Mayor Libby Schaaf*
    Oakland, CA
  • Mayor Michael Hancock*
    Denver, CO
  • Mayor Steve Adler*
    Austin, TX
  • Mayor Vicente Sarmiento*
    Santa Ana, CA
  • Assembly Member Catalina Cruz
    Queens, NY
  • Councilmember Damon Seils
    Carrboro, NC
  • Councilmember Deni Taveras*
    Prince George's County, MD
  • Councilmember Elizabeth Brown*
    Columbus, OH
  • Councilmember Eric Guerra*
    Sacramento, CA
  • Councilmember Helen Gym*
    Philadelphia, PA
  • Councilmember Jamie Torres*
    Denver, CO
  • Councilmember Katie Valenzuela*
    Sacramento, CA
  • Councilmember Mai Vang*
    Sacramento, CA
  • Councilmember Nelida Mendoza*
    Santa Ana, CA
  • Councilmember Robin Kniech*
    Denver, CO
  • Councilmember at Large Rolando R. Lavarro, Jr.
    Jersey City, NJ
  • Councilmember Zach Adamson
    Indianapolis City County, IN
  • Chris Kolb, Vice-Chair
    Jefferson County Public Schools, Louisville, KY
  • Igor Tregub, Commissioner
    Berkeley Rent Board, Berkeley, CA
  • Jennifer Mecozzi, West Board Member
    Buffalo Public Schools, Buffalo, NY
  • Megan Miller, Vice President
    Beloit Board of Education, Beloit, WI
  • Immigration Impact Unit, Committee for Public Counsel Services
    The Public Defender Agency of Massachusetts, Massachusetts
  • Office of Immigrant Affairs, City of Philadelphia*
  • Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, City and County of Denver*
  • Ramsey County Board of Commissioners*
    Ramsey County, MN
  • The City of Atlanta Office of the Public Defender*
  • The Law Office of the Cook County Public Defender*
    Chicago, IL
  • ABLE*
    Columbus, OH
  • Alianza NORCO*
    Fort Collins, CO
  • American Friends Service Committee - Colorado
    Denver, CO
  • American Gateways*
    San Antonio, TX
  • American Immigration Council
    Washington, D.C.
  • American Immigration Lawyers Association
    Washington, D.C.
  • Asian Americans United
    Philadelphia, PA
  • Asian Prisoner Support Committee*
    Oakland, CA
  • Bailey's Cafe
    Brooklyn, NY
  • Baton Rouge Immigrants Rights Coalition (BRIRC)
    Denham Springs, LA
  • Bend the Arc: Jewish Action Prince George's County
    Prince George's County, MD
  • Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI)*
    New York, NY
  • Black LGBTQ+ Migrant Project
    Oakland, CA
  • Brooklyn Defender Services
    New York, NY
  • CAIR Coalition*
    Washington, DC
  • California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation*
    Sacramento, CA
  • Caribbean Community in Philadelphia
    Philadelphia, PA
  • Casa de Esperanza: National Latin@ Network for Healthy Families and Communities
    St. Paul, MN
  • CASA de Maryland*
    Maryland
  • Catholic Legal Services, Archdiocese of Miami Inc.
    Miami, FL
  • Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, University of California, Hastings College of the Law
    San Francisco, CA
  • Center for Popular Democracy
    New York, NY
  • Centro de Trabajadores Unidos
    Chicago, IL
  • Centro Legal de La Raza*
    Oakland, CA
  • Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition*
    Denver, CO
  • Community Immigration Law Center*
    Madison, WI
  • Doctors For Camp Closure (D4CC)
    Potomac, MD
  • Dolores Street Community Services
    San Francisco, CA
  • Equal Access Legal Services
    Philadelphia, PA
  • Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project
    Los Angeles, CA
  • FIRN
    Columbia, MD
  • Farmworker and Landscaper Advocacy Project (FLAP)
    Chicago, IL
  • Freedom Network USA
    Washington, DC
  • Grassroots Leadership*
    Austin, TX
  • Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program
    Boston, MA
  • HIAS Pennsylvania
    Philadelphia, PA
  • Hispanic Federation
    New York, NY
  • Immigrant ARC
    Albany, NY
  • Immigrant Defenders Law Center*
    Los Angeles, CA
  • Immigrant Justice Corps
    New York, NY
  • Immigrant Legal Defense
    Oakland, CA
  • Immigrant Legal Resource Center
  • Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services*
    New Haven, CT
  • Interfaith Coalition on Immigration
    Minneapolis, MN
  • International Institute of Akron
    Akron, OH
  • International Rescue Committee*
    Dallas, TX
  • Juntos*
    Philadelphia, PA
  • Keep Tucson Together
    Tucson, AZ
  • Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition*
    Long Beach, CA
  • Louisiana Advocates for Immigrants in Detention
    Lafayette, LA
  • Mano Amiga
    San Marcos, TX
  • Mariposa Legal, program of COMMON Foundation
    Indianapolis, IN
  • Maryland Against ICE Detention
    Maryland
  • Maryland Legislative Coalition
    Maryland
  • Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition
    Boston, MA
  • Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
    Boston, MA
  • Mauritanian Network for Human Rights*
    Columbus, OH
  • Mississippi Center for Justice
    Jackson, MS
  • National Association of Social Workers - NYC Chapter
    New York, NY
  • National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel
    Montgomery, AL
  • National Immigrant Justice Center*
    Chicago, IL
  • National Immigration Law Center
    Los Angeles, CA
  • National Partnership for New Americans
    Chicago, IL
  • Nationalities Service Center*
    Philadelphia, PA
  • New Mexico Immigrant Law Center
    Albuquerque, NM
  • New Sanctuary Coalition
    New York, NY
  • New York Immigration Coalition
    New York, NY
  • NorCal Resist
    Sacramento, CA
  • Northeastern University Immigrant Justice Clinic
    Boston, MA
  • Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation (NMIC)
    New York, NY
  • Orange County Justice Fund
    Costa Mesa, CA
  • Paroled 2 Pride
    Columbus, MS
  • Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition
    Philadelphia, PA
  • Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center (PIRC)*
    Philadelphia, PA
  • Pima County Justice for All
    Pima County, AZ
  • Public Counsel
    Los Angeles, CA
  • RAICES*
    San Antonio, TX
  • Release MN8*
    St Paul, MN
  • RISE Coalition of Western Maryland
    Frederick, MD
  • Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network (RMIAN)*
    Denver, CO
  • Safe Passage Project
    New York, NY
  • Sanctuary DMV
    Washington, D.C./Maryland/Virginia
  • Spirit of the Sun
    Denver, CO
  • Student Clinic of Immigrant Justice
    Waltham, MA
  • Sueños Sin Fronteras de Tejas
    San Antonio, TX
  • Takoma Park Mobilization
    Takoma Park, MD
  • The Advocates for Human Rights*
    Minneapolis, MN
  • The Bronx Defenders
    Bronx, NY
  • The Rebuild, Overcome, and Rise (ROAR) Center at the University of Maryland, Baltimore
    Baltimore, MD
  • United Stateless
    Philadelphia, PA
  • Immigrant Justice Ministry Team of Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church
    Bethesda, MD
  • Law Office of Justin Tullius PLLC
    San Antonio, TX
  • Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom
    Silver Spring, MD

SAFE Endorsers:

*SAFE partner
Our research

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