Identifying Opportunities to Improve the Network of Immigration Legal Services Providers

Vasil Yasenov | David Hausman | Michael Hotard | Duncan Lawrence | Alexandra Siegel | Jessica S. Wolff | David D. Laitin | Jens Hainmueller

Immigration legal services providers (ISPs) are a principal source of support for low-income immigrants seeking immigration benefits. Yet there is scant quantitative evidence on the prevalence and geographic distribution of ISPs in the United States. To fill this gap, we construct a comprehensive, nationwide database of 2,138 geocoded ISP offices that offer low- or no-cost legal services to low-income immigrants. We use spatial optimization methods to analyze the geographic network of ISPs and measure ISPs’ proximity to the low-income immigrant population. Because both ISPs and immigrants are highly concentrated in major urban areas, most low-income immigrants live close to an ISP. However, we also find a sizable fraction of low-income immigrants in underserved areas, which are primarily in midsize cities in the South. This reflects both a general skew in non-governmental organization service provision and the more recent arrival of immigrants in these largely southern destinations. Finally, our optimization analysis suggests significant gains from placing new ISPs in underserved areas to maximize the number of low-income immigrants who live near an ISP. Overall, our results provide vital information to immigrants, funders, and policymakers about the current state of the ISP network and opportunities to improve it.