A Federal Defender Service for Immigrants Why We Need a Universal, Zealous, and Person-Centered Model

Federal defender service pub


The Vera Institute of Justice (Vera) recommends that the Biden administration draw from time-tested models, data, and knowledge to build a federally funded, universal legal defense service that provides universal, zealous, and person-centered defense to all immigrants. This federal defender service should be modeled on the criminal federal defender system, which is generally regarded as more successful at realizing the values of high-quality, appropriately funded representation than its state counterparts. Vera makes this recommendation based on years of experience building and managing national immigrant legal defense programs. A federal defender service built on these core values is effective and achievable, and it would help ensure that the lives, liberty, and community health of immigrants are given full and equal protection under the law regardless of status. This policy brief highlights that a federal defender service would address systemic inequities of the immigration system and has widespread support in the United States.

Key Takeaway

A federally funded, universal legal defense service that provides universal, zealous, and person-centered defense to all immigrants would help address systemic inequities within the immigration system, and would represent a safeguard that is already proven, effective, achievable, and has widespread public support.

Publication Highlights

  • Vera has already worked with government partners, legal defense providers, advocates, and impacted people to create, test, and refine national immigrant legal defense programs grounded in universality, zealousness, and person-centeredness.

  • A federal defender service would combat the burden of racist immigration policies that most severely impact immigrants with criminal convictions, poor immigrants, Black immigrants, and immigrants with severe mental health conditions.

  • Without a federal defender service, tens of thousands of immigrants, including long-term permanent residents, asylum seekers, and parents of U.S.-citizen children, must face a hostile immigration system without representation.

Key Facts


Implementing the Vision at the Local and State Level Summary

Advancing Universal Representation: A Toolkit for Advocates, Organizers, Legal Service Providers, and Policymakers

Universal representation—a public defender system for all immigrants facing deportation—is based on the fundamental belief that everyone deserves due process under the law. While a growing movement works toward a legally mandated and federally funded representation system, several counties, cities, and states have stepped up to fund deportation def ...

April 13, 2021