U.S. Immigration Law: January 2012 Archives

In deportation defense work, immigrant rights organizers can work most effectively to stop a deportation when they collaborate with a reliable immigration attorney. Viewed from another perspective, an attorney can often better serve his or her client with the help of organizers. However, complications can arise with this type of collaborative work.

In recent years, collaboration between organizers and attorneys has most commonly involved Education Not Deportation (END) campaigns to stop the deportation of undocumented youth. END cases were rare before the summer of 2009. Now the federal government routinely agrees not to deport undocumented youth who would qualify for the DREAM Act, were it to be enacted, and who reach a certain threshold of visibility and public support. (The government routinely deports tens of thousands of DREAM-eligible youth who remain invisible to the public--and even some who have strong public support.)

I have worked on several END cases since 2009 as an immigration attorney. In my experience, an END case has the best chance of success when an attorney works closely with organizers and the client's existing support network. Attorneys have access to and relationships with immigration officials that organizers and family members usually lack. Organizers have the trust of the community and are not afraid to directly challenge the government. Organizers, attorneys, and others worked together on the early END cases and created the existing END model. Organizers and attorneys are better able to stop deportations when they work together.

Unfortunately, this does not always happen. Communication between the attorney and organizers sometimes breaks down, to the detriment of the client. Attorneys sometimes have a limited view of what is possible in a given jurisdiction, failing to acknowledge successes in similar cases elsewhere. Attorneys can be too cautious, apprehensive of damaging delicate relationships with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) attorneys or deportation officers. Out of habit, attorneys can shut supporters and organizers out of the case, foregoing the collaborative model for a "what I say goes" approach. It's worth taking a closer look at how and why these problems arise, and what can be done to address them.