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Updated: Mar 2, 2022

A New Vision for CCIJ

What do we do when Immigrants and communities of color are under attack? What is the role for advocates, attorneys and non-profit institutions? These are tough questions, which require deep reflection and strategic thinking. The current political moment requires us to move beyond traditional ideas of lawyering and non-profit work.

As women of color and the daughters of immigrants with decades of collective experience in the nonprofit legal sector, we have come to question the traditional non-profit legal services model. We went to law school and fought to build careers in the nation’s least diverse profession to help our communities access justice. Now, we wonder: are legal services actually doing that? What does it mean to help someone access justice in a system when they are kept in a cage during a pandemic, where their most fundamental rights are violated daily?

Ten years ago when we both started working in this field, funding for immigrant legal services was limited and resources for removal defense services were almost non-existent. Thanks to the persistent and tireless work of advocates, philanthropy and even the State of California have invested significantly in these areas. While many lives have been saved from torture at detention centers and deporation to places of persecution, the rampant xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment in this country have created a system of whack-a-mole, where advocates are able to push back and fight one fire only to have another fire coming their way. We now see that the problem is the system itself and any attempts to fix the systems are only band-aids. And having seen the trauma and horror caused by this system, we’ve had enough of band-aids.

Lisa Knox, CCIJ's Legal Director at a protest outside of the ICE processing center in San Francisco.

The California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice (CCIJ) was formed in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, when two immigrant defense collaboratives, the Northern California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice (NCCIJ) and the Northern California Rapid Response and Immigrant Defense Network (NCRRIDN), joined efforts to provide better coordination and legal assistance to detained immigrants and their communities. Over the past four years, CCIJ has largely focused on providing traditional legal services to individuals in detention.

The current administration’s aggressive immigration enforcement policies and weaponization of the immigration courts have shut down many of the traditional legal avenues for liberation. We have seen that access to the courts and counsel have limited meaning in an immigration system that is increasingly partisan and anti-immigrant.

Because of that, there can be no true immigrant justice in our current system. The COVID pandemic has highlighted the dangers and cruelty inherent to immigration detention. There can be no due process for people who are forced to fight deportation while locked in these cages. Therefore, the only true path forward is to dismantle the immigration system, which is a system of racism and oppression. For CCIJ this means grounding our work in principles that seek to promote systemic change. 

Community protest outside the ICE processing center in San Francisco. Picture taken by CCIJ's Senior Attorney, Katie Kavanagh

CCIJ’s work will be informed by our four Guiding Principles:

1. We believe that the path to justice for those in detention lies in building power in our communities to abolish ICE and its system of mass detention.

2. We recognize that immigrants in detention, as those most impacted by the system, must be centered in this work.

3. We also recognize that law can be an important tool in this work only if we work in partnership with impacted communities and organizers.

4. As a women of color led organization, we are committed to empowering others from impacted communities to do this legal work.

To move toward our vision of a California without detention requires us to reevaluate and shift our mission. CCIJ’s new mission is to use coordination, advocacy, and legal services to fight for the liberation of immigrants in detention.

CCIJ has already put this mission into action with the passage of AB 3228, a bill that provides detained individuals a cause of action against private detention operators who violate detention standards. The bill builds on advocacy work by CCIJ and its partners to support detained individuals who have organized hunger strikes and called for action against private detention oper