As part of its effort to put law into the hands of communities, the Bernstein Institute for Human Rights, in partnership with UNHCR and the Global Justice Clinic at NYU Law, is documenting legal empowerment strategies used by immigration organizations in the United States to advance immigrant justice. Immigrants and asylum seekers face a legal code that is complicated and convoluted. The stunning lack of uniformity in the way in which it is applied to individual cases means that decisions are often arbitrary. Furthermore, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) often operates in a way that instills fear and panic into immigrant communities. “In essence, we’re doing death penalty cases in a traffic court setting,” said Immigration Court Judge Dana Leigh Marks. While providing immigrants more access to legal counsel is a necessary step towards justice, it is insufficient to fully address the needs of immigrant communities.
The Immigration Justice Empowerment Project partners with directly affected community members, immigration advocates and lawyers in the United States to document legal empowerment strategies that help immigrant communities to know, use and shape the laws that impact their lives. The project’s ongoing research has initially identified eight types of strategies that are currently being implemented:
- Community Driven Campaigns
- Community Driven Litigation
- Community Paralegals
- Know Your Rights Programs
- Pro Se Legal Clinics
These strategies, and the organizations implementing them, are highlighted on JusticePower.org. This website is an evolving documentation project, with new organizations and methods updated as the research continues. To see a glimpse of the accompaniment work that Grassroots Leadership, one of the organizations, is doing, please watch the following video:
The goal of the Immigration Justice Empowerment Project is to make visible the powerful impact of legal empowerment strategies to advance immigrant rights in the United States, and connect domestic efforts to the global movement on legal empowerment.
Our hope is that through the website, immigration service providers, funders, and policy makers learn about these innovative methods and consider adopting and supporting these strategies in their important work. In a time of rising division and xenophobia - creative, community-centered approaches to justice are needed for lasting social change.