movement lawyering, social change, cause lawyering, client-centered lawyering, rebellious lawyering, campaign lawyering, progressive lawyering, organizers, activism, immigrant rights, Secure Communities, DHS, law and society, empirical legal studies, ICE, lawyer efficacy, lawyer accountability

Document Type



The role of lawyers in social change movements is more important than ever as communities mobilize around systemic racism, police killings, xenophobia, rising unemployment, and widening economic inequality. The immigrant rights movement is a critical part of these efforts to foment change. This Article leverages an in-depth case study – the rise and fall of the controversial immigration enforcement program known as Secure Communities - to explore how lawyers work as part of a community to challenge power and effectuate change. The dismantling of Secure Communities was widely credited to a relentless campaign to thwart the government’s then-expanding deportation strategy. The authors reviewed over 23,000 internal DHS documents, as well as media accounts and court transcripts, and interviewed 30 administrative officials, congressional actors, organizers, clients, activists, and lawyers involved in the Secure Communities campaigns. This Article draws on extensive evidence to identify an innovative approach to movement lawyering that involved coordinated efforts of movement actors on the micro level (achieving immediate goals), the meso level (effecting broader policy change), and the macro level (organizing communities around narrative identities). The Article concludes that efforts at change were optimized when lawyers, organizers, and activists together built a nimble, adaptive, and modular strategy to enhance concerted power from the ground up. Within this new construct, lawyers might develop new ways of working with communities that synergistically exploit the advantages of various social change strategies at any given time, producing strengthened relationships and lasting investments in organized resistance.



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