On June 27, 2014, the AILA-AIC (+ Innovation Law Lab) Artesia Pro Bono Project came to life. It was the first massive collaborative representation project in the country. We are all living the reality of what happened in subsequent years, and so I’ll skip the full summary of Artesia, because it can be found in the Artesia Report, put together by Stephen Manning and the Law Lab team.
What I’m concerned with is the foundation that was created by the Artesia project for all collaborative efforts that have followed. A lot of what have become the tenets and foundation principles of Big Immigration Advocacy, were established over a 4 month period in this single project. Understanding what those principles are is important, because it allows us to gauge how far we’ve come in achieving some of the core goals for the collaborative representation movement.
In this post I really want to explore what strategic holes still remain, and what barriers may be
The Original Principles
The principles around collaborative defense established with Artesia are still very familiar today, and perhaps familiar-enough at this point to seem obvious:
Big picture elements:
- Multiple advocacy and legal organizations from different geographies across the U.S. would work together within a hierarchical structure on one project
- Advocates, lawyers, and activists would work in tandem
- The project itself would be narrowly tailored to maximize success in a core legal process (CFIs in Artesia’s case; bond, ROR, parole grants in subsequent projects)
- Client follow up, aka “post service”, would be established through the creation of networks of volunteers, facilitated by technology case transfer and a growing list of volunteers activated by their work OTG.
- Winning all cases would be the ground goal, while abolition and a transformation of the political variables creating this humanitarian crisis would be the guiding star
- All cases meant all cases; the projects would work with hard cases in order to create and strengthen favorable case law (favorable here meaning case law that would help refugee’s seeking asylum to get fair hearings of their claims within the U.S. judicial system, and create humane conditions for refugees coming into early contact with immigration enforcement officials upon entry and during processing)
- A set of scale-able protocols would help standardize work across all project participants, including volunteers, and break bigger tasks into bite-sized chunks
- New cloud-based technologies that allowed for the storage of cases in the cloud would facilitate collaboration on each case
- Casework for each case would be broken into chunks, borrowing from models that are the standard in clinic/hospital settings
- Data collection should be a key output of the process, as preservation of records would be the key
- A small, on-site group of staffers would be the only permanent staff
- Volunteers should form the majority of the workforce on the ground
- They should be organized via a centralized volunteer management system
- They should be thrust into the fire
- No matter their skill level, volunteers should be willing to do anything to help the team succeed
- The projects would strive to create a core set of believers out of volunteers, and former volunteers would become change-agents in their own communities
- Some volunteers would become lifelong- and even professional-advocates
- A model of novel representation would quickly arise out of these efforts, one capable of meeting head-on the needs of a remade immigration landscape, where many people needed help and the one-on-one pro bono model of representation was no longer adequate to provide assistance
It is unsurprising that since Artesia the best developed aspects of the big immigration advocacy model have come in areas where existing skill sets within the advocacy and legal community were best suited to push innovation.
For the most part, protocol development, volunteer recruitment, the parceling out of case work among a team of providers, the related proliferation of collaborative case-management technology and techniques, and the conversion of volunteers into activated immigration advocates has gone well. Teams from San Diego to Albany use similar templates to process volunteers, collect intakes and documents, and to manage clients.
I have seen first-hand how a crack-team of collaborative defense veterans are able to set up an operation to process hundreds of detained asylum seekers in just under a week, using little more than an existing library of templates, established protocols, and hard work.
Protocols and templates are what advocates and lawyers have always had the skill sets to build. And, given that protocols and templates together, along with plenty of elbow grease, are enough to get a project off the ground in tight circumstances it is unsurprising that these two elements of the collaborative defense tool set are the ones which are best developed.
Another area of big wins is in the large community of former Artesis and other OTG projects that has sprouted over the past 5 years. Former volunteers and staff have been made into true believers of the idea that collaborative immigration advocacy is the way forward. Anecdotally, many have become professional advocates and full-time immigration attorneys.
Finally, Innovation Law Lab’s vision of many organizations collaborating through shared but secured databases is materializing into reality more every single day. Northern California’s providers use one database for cases. Organizations on the border have successfully been able to find clients between databases that can speak to one another. And, perhaps most impressively, the hope created by a universal database system has baked into the immigration advocacy zeitgeist as the goal we all need to shoot for.
Works in Progress
Volunteer management and training has been a mixed bag. Neither virtual volunteer training nor good ol’ throwing them into the fire and watching them harden into wise advocates has worked perfectly (though the best models, as I’ll write about in future posts, use a combination of digital training and structured volunteer onboarding). Attrition is high, and, anecdotally, the lack of resources to both manage clients and support volunteers across the spectrum of their involvement (pre-arrival, OTG, post-arrival) has led to high recruitment and training costs.
Of course, the isolation of project sites is a big part of this conundrum, but so is the difficulty of the work, the perpetual burn out of veteran advocates, and the oft-overwhelming enormity of the political onslaught against the client’s being served.
Nevertheless, volunteer recruitment remains adhoc, periodic, and lacking in the sort of customer-first focus that sustains organizations in other sectors.
Similarly, post-service has been a major area of neglect. While current systems prioritize winning cases and making sure that those who are kept within partner projects get to court and have the best chance possible at winning merits cases, anecdotally the majority of those served lose contact with any advocates after settling within the United States. This is not a failure of any project, rather it seems better characterized as an illustration that the humanitarian response requires national mobilization, and cannot be sustained only with geography-specific projects at the border and within detention centers.
Data intake has been successful, in the sense of projects devoting time, resources, and unwavering commitment to preserving client data. But, what is less clear is to what end the data is being stored (ex. Is it ABC litigation 2.0?), how data should be collected, the best mediums that data should be stored in, how data should be shared, how data can be accessed for impact litigation, how data can be shared, and what sort of analytics should be applied to the data that is collected. All of these challenges speak to the fact that data analytics and technical concerns are Priority Infinity on the long ladder of tactical concerns.
Collaboration between organizations is a strange one to put in the “Works in Progress Column”, but it has to be said that poor communication and information sharing mechanisms, competition, politics, and lack of interchangeability between client management systems has certainly slowed collaboration more than is optimal for the moment.
Finally, we need no reminders that the goal of winning all cases has become an anachronism. The long game strategy has now replaced this as a goal.,
Where to next
Over the past six years, we have become a part of a movement that can very well transform the practice of law in immigration and other humanitarian settings.
But if we take a thirty-thousand foot view of what we’ve accomplished, there has been a lot of movement but very little coordinated planning and strategizing, and even less infrastructure building. It is necessary to start thinking at a systems level, and to resist the temptation to move before a plan is in place. This has proven to be a near-impossible ask in the face of the human suffering that has gone from bad to worse to even worse over the past half-dozen years, but we find ourselves in a place now where taking a step back, building a long-term strategy, and ruthlessly executing on it are not just nice ideas, but necessary ones if we plan to protect those we have pledged ourselves to protect.
What do you all think? What should I write about next?