Survey of Hundreds of Organizations Shows Extent of Community-Based Support for People Navigating the U.S. Immigration System

March 1, 2021

WASHINGTON—A new publication released today by the American Immigration Council and the Women’s Refugee Commission draws from original data gathered from hundreds of community-based organizations around the country and provides a snapshot of the extent of available services that help migrants navigate the complexities of the U.S. immigration system. These services stand in stark contrast to the cruel and costly detention and surveillance-based approach the government relies on today. The data underscores that a new approach to supporting those in the immigration process is possible and that appropriate support and funding for community-based services could help the United States phase out immigration detention entirely.

As the Biden administration considers how to create a more welcoming and humane immigration system, including ending reliance on detention, this publication underscores that community-based organizations can and must form a critical component of supporting individuals and families in navigating the immigration system.

The publication draws from original data from a November-December 2020 survey assessing the capacity of 244 organizations, including more than 300 organizational affiliates or sub-offices, in 39 states and Washington, DC to provide an array of services to migrants in the immigration system including legal, medical, mental health, social, transportation, and housing. The survey revealed that while many services are underfunded, they could be scaled up with adequate resources and support. The survey was voluntary and is not an exhaustive representation of all services available across the United States, but documents a snapshot of the services, needs, and funding of many organizations across the United States providing community support services.

The report finds that policymakers, lawmakers, and funders all have an opportunity to transform how these services can play a role as part of a broader shift in the approach to the immigration process. The findings underscore what organizations providing services demonstrate every day: that deep capacity exists to appropriately support those in the immigration process, standing in stark contrast to detention and existing inappropriate government surveillance “Alternative to Detention” programs that rely on systems like electronic monitoring.

“The need to end immigration detention is more critical than ever before. The results from this survey help show that a new approach is possible—rather than relying on a costly and punitive system of detention, the government should invest in the community-based organizations already supporting migrants. As the Biden administration takes steps to reform the U.S. immigration system, a new vision of how to support migrants navigating the immigration system must be a part of the way forward,” said Kathryn Shepherd, national advocacy counsel for the Immigration Justice Campaign at the American Immigration Council.

“The Biden administration has an opportunity to transform the immigration system from one that detains and deters to one that welcomes and supports those in the immigration process with appropriate community-based services. Trusted and experienced community-based organizations can and should play a critical role in any new approach. While not exhaustive, this survey underscores the depth and breadth of services available around the country, and the commitment to providing and expanding these services.” said Katharina Obser, acting director for Migrant Rights & Justice Program at the Women's Refugee Commission.

Read the full study here.


For more information, contact:

Maria Frausto at the American Immigration Council, [email protected] or 202-507-7526.
Joanna Kuebler at the Women’s Refugee Commission, [email protected] or 646-255-5586.

Media Contact

Elyssa Pachico
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