Many, if not most, immigration lawyers choose this line of work in part because of a desire to help people. In many cases, immigration lawyers have been immigrants themselves, or have recent family history tied to immigration, which helps them build stronger connections with their clients. Indeed, practicing immigration law is a direct way to have an impact on the immigration landscape.
Another way you can make a difference in immigration is by getting involved in advocacy. But how can you go about getting involved? Which organizations can you work with, or for, to advocate for change in immigration law and policy? In this article we'll break down how to approach getting involved in immigration advocacy as an immigration lawyer.
Immigration law is federal in scope but that doesn’t mean that all advocacy for immigration law has to be done on a national scale. Advocacy at the local level is necessary too, although perhaps at times overlooked or undersung. In this section we’re going to explore ways in which you can get involved in advocacy at the local level, and mention some organizations that can be a good place to start. Some of these you may already be involved with, or have connections to, through your network that you can leverage to find initiatives that match your interests. Let’s jump in.
Getting involved with local advocacy and local immigrant communities may be the most direct way you can impact the people you serve, thus allowing you to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening on the ground.
One common example of local advocacy is working to make your city a sanctuary city. Sanctuary cities are those that, at a high level, “limit how local law enforcement can cooperate with federal immigration agents.” Sanctuary cities are seen as havens for undocumented or other foreign nationals that want or need a safe place to live while they work through their immigration challenges. Examples of sanctuary cities include New York City, Minneapolis, Seattle, and Boston. Coming at this issue from another angle, you can advocate against anti-sanctuary city proposals; for example, proposals obligating law enforcement or healthcare providers to report undocumented immigrants to immigration law enforcement.
The National Immigration Law Center has a toolkit which has been used successfully in past challenges to sanctuary cities across the nation and includes talking points and legal research you can refer to.
You could also go beyond the city level and work on statewide advocacy. Two examples from the state of New York of non-profit organizations advocating for the wellbeing of immigrant communities are NY Immigration Coalition and Immigrant ARC. The NY Immigration Coalition focuses on improving access to basic rights, such as education and healthcare, for immigrant families, as well as engaging them in the community through civic action. Immigrant ARC, on the other hand, focuses more on emergency services, by providing immigration lawyer access to immigrants under threat, as well as educating immigrants in the state about their rights. A first step toward taking action would be to see if your state or local government has directories for immigration legal advocacy organizations operating in your state, such as what Texas and New York City have.
Affecting change at a higher level is another way to advocate for immigrants’ rights. Here are some categories of organizations advocating for immigrants at the national level.
National immigration organizations
First, the American Immigration Council (AIC), which “employs four coordinated approaches to advance change - litigation, research, legislative and administrative advocacy, and communications,” is a great place to start. There are two ways in which you can get involved with an organization like the AIC: you can either become a member, or actively and more directly participate in some of their initiatives. For a complete list of opportunities for attorneys, check out the AIC’s website.
Additionally, NAFSA: Association of International Educators, a non-profit professional organization for professionals in all areas of international education, takes part in advocacy around foreign students and scholars and other impacted individuals that work for or are part of the higher education sector.
Of course there is also the American Immigration Lawyers Association, which is the largest immigration attorney bar association and has a number of initiatives you can get involved in, including:
Ethnic interest groups
Another way to get involved in advocacy is to work with ethnic or other community groups that have a political presence and, among other things, work on immigration advocacy. For example, there’s the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), which represents the Latino community in the nation’s capital and focuses on increasing participation in the political process. One of LULAC’s immigration-specific initiatives is the Hispanic Immigration Integration Program (HIIP), through which they help participants prepare for naturalization. For opportunities to get involved in your state, find your state’s LULAC Council in this map.
LULAC is just one example as there are many ethnic interest groups that are politically active and, among other things, seek to influence policy at both the domestic and international level in a way that promotes that group’s interests.
Industry advocacy organizations
Some advocacy work comes from industry-specific organizations that fight for immigration changes based on their field of work. A few examples of such organizations include Compete America, which advocates for reform of the high-skill immigration law system and implementing education initiatives that elevate the skill set of the American workforce and ITServe Alliance, which advocates for fair immigration toward the technology sector.
Another example is Farmworker Justice, which seeks to empower migrant and seasonal farmworkers to improve their living and working conditions, immigration status, health, occupational safety, and access to justice.
Finally, outside of getting involved with an advocacy organization through membership, volunteering, or other programs, you can also get involved in advocating for immigrants’ rights through impact litigation.
Strategic in nature, and with long-term, far-reaching goals in mind, impact litigation is more than delivering convincing conclusions and obtaining a favorable outcome in court. Impact litigation involves a selective process, where a case is chosen based on the possible effects it may trigger beyond that individual case outcome. In order for impact litigation to be successful, you have to get involved in activities outside the courtroom, including using social media, engaging community organizations and academic institutions, and provoking a public reaction by calling out an issue in both the actual courts and the court of public opinion. Ideally, the effects of impact litigation are felt far beyond the individual case and result in broader change.
A recent example of impact litigation within immigration includes groups of immigrants turning to the courts in large numbers to file writs of mandamus against USCIS when their months- or years-long waits for immigrant visa processing and adjudication interfered with their ability to work or travel. The goal was to force USCIS to take action and bring relief to not just those who filed these actions but to any applicant who may be suffering delays due to similar backlogs.
In this particular example, some of the ways in which USCIS enacted changes were by rolling out new phases of premium processing and increasing extension periods for some visa categories. And while those may not be long-term solutions, they’ve had a positive impact for thousands of applicants. The people who brought these cases definitely made an impact.
If you’re interested in this kind of strategic work, here are some organizations who currently work on impact litigation in the immigration space:
IMMPACT Litigation is one of the most interesting initiatives in immigration law right now. Made of an alliance of multiple immigration law firms, IMMPACT Litigation focuses on urgent needs in the immigration system by taking mass-action and class-action cases at the Federal District Court and Circuit Court of Appeals levels. Working cooperatively, the attorneys at this organization advocate for immigrants in the court system with the goal of bringing changes to the applicable law that benefit people beyond the listed plaintiffs.
If you want to start a similar working alliance, this could be a good example to follow.
Docketwise makes immigration advocacy and litigation easier. Not only does Docketwise handle traditional immigration casework, it can also support immigration attorneys with litigation matters by helping organize and track client correspondence, document and information upload, etc., and can support advocacy by providing reports, statistics, and other data that may help advocacy efforts.
From a full library of immigration forms to client questionnaires in multiple languages to an industry-leading set of API integrations, we help you stay up to date on all your cases, communicate easily with your clients, and otherwise build and manage your firm.