SAFE Initiative


The need for universal representation

Despite the devastating consequences of detention and deportation, there is no right to appointed counsel in immigration court.

As a result, most immigrants facing deportation—particularly those in detention—go unrepresented, forced to defend themselves against the federal government. Hundreds of thousands of people have been denied a fair opportunity to exercise their legal rights simply because they had no one to stand with them before a judge.

Universal representation—a public defender system for people facing deportation—aims to ensure that everyone has access to legal representation, including Black immigrants and other immigrants of color who have been most criminalized and targeted by overpolicing and immigration enforcement. By ensuring that everyone has equal access to due process, universal representation advances a more equitable vision of justice.

Everyone deserves their fair day in court. Everyone should mean everyone.

  • 70%

    of immigrants who go to court while in detention must do so without an attorney.

  • Immigrants who are represented are more than

    3x more likely

    to be released

    from detention on bond.

  • Represented immigrants are

    10x more likely

    to establish a right to remain in the U.S.

    than those without counsel.

  • One federal judge describes immigration court as akin to "death penalty cases in a traffic court setting."The Honorable Mark A. Dummond, “‘Death Penalty Cases in a Traffic Court Setting’: Lessons from the Front Lines of Today’s Immigration Courts,” American Bar Association, January 15, 2019,