Absent a federally mandated right to representation in immigration court, local and state universal representation programs are crucial to bringing fairness and due process into a system that sets immigrants up to fail. Effective implementation and program design are needed to bring these programs’ mission to fruition. From the selection of providers to the particulars of caseload management and the nuances of billing systems, the universal representation model’s central tenet of due process for everyone must inform every aspect of program implementation and design. The elimination of intake criteria, though extremely important, is only one of many elements necessary to run a successful universal representation program.

The goal of programs should be to scale up over time to meet the ever-expanding need locally, while continuing to pressure the federal government to fulfill its promise to protect due process for everyone. The programs with the most success will be those that have funding secured over a multiyear period and where there is room to grow incrementally. These programs will grow stronger as they reap the benefits of economies of scale, building on the infrastructure investments made during the first year—and on the investments needed as programs expand—to serve increasing numbers of people.

These locally and state-funded programs, in conjunction with existing federally funded programs, will serve as a blueprint for achieving zealous, person-centered universal representation that is federally mandated—and ultimately, an end to the country’s unjust and inhumane immigration enforcement machinery. Universal representation provides a critical vehicle for advocates, organizers, providers, and governments to continue working collectively to actualize an immigration system centered first and foremost in human dignity.


The authors would like to thank the following expert reviewers for their thoughtful input for this report: Natalia Renta with the Center for Popular Democracy, Shiu-Ming Cheer with the National Immigration Law Center, Ellen Pachnanda with Brooklyn Defender Services, and Lindsay Toczylowski with the Immigrant Defenders Law Center. The authors also thank Sarah Plastino with the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network, Kelly White with the CAIR Coalition, Aissa Olivarez with the Community Immigration Law Center, Prince George’s County Council Member Deni Taveras, Sarah Martinez-Helfman with The Samuel S. Fels Foundation, M. Elizabeth (Liz) Cedillo-Pereira of the city of Dallas, Jojo Annobil of the Immigrant Justice Corps, and Sarah Knight with the Bronx Defenders for their contributions to this report.

The authors would also like to acknowledge the following people at the Vera Institute of Justice, Center for Popular Democracy, and National Immigration Law Center for offering additional feedback and expertise: Natalia Ariatizabal, Annie Chen, Maggie Corser, Melissa Garlick, Shayna Kessler, Dennis Kuo, Kica Matos, Anne Marie Mulcahy, Cindy Reed, Jennifer Reinbold, and Nina Siulc. Thanks also to Jules Verdone for editing, Michael Mehler and Dan Redding for design, and Maris Mapolski for copyediting and proofreading.