Student Posts

Change Through Cooperation: Advocacy in a Polarized Society

During our recent class on immigration impact work, while Leslye Orloff was talking about the need to appeal to and compromise with people on the other side of the aisle while advocating for the Violence Against Women Act, I thought of my experiences in a class I took on immigration policy during undergrad. For this class, we had to complete a semester-long research project on an immigration policy issue. I chose to do my project on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

When I read about the politics surrounding the issue, I learned that while both parties were sympathetic to DACA recipients, Republicans feared that granting citizenship to DACA recipients would result in an increase in undocumented immigration by people who believed that their children would also one day be granted citizenship. This was a major source of gridlock on the issue and a central reason why previous attempts at a solution for DACA recipients had failed. It became increasingly clear to me that, at least at that point in time, a permanent solution to the problems DACA recipients faced would have to involve measures to reduce further undocumented immigration. This was simply the only way a bill could be passed that would secure DACA recipients’ futures in the United States. How to balance the needs of DACA recipients with the needs of other people seeking refuge in the United States was a question I wasn’t sure how to answer as a 21-year-old college student, but a question that had to be answered by someone.

I always thought of “advocacy” as vigorously defending the solutions that we want to see, and that certainly is part of it. However, the more I learn about public service, the more I realize that advocacy also means knowing your audience and meeting them where they are. Advocacy can mean appealing to the other side’s values, as Leslye appealed to Republicans’ concerns about crime. It can also mean forming a solution that isn’t quite what you wanted, but is the best you can accomplish right now––accepting a half-win today in the hopes of achieving a greater win tomorrow. This is difficult to realize, and even more difficult to talk about, but important to understand nonetheless.

Implementing the kinds of changes we want to see will inevitably require convincing people we don’t agree with to get on board. It feels incredibly cliché to talk about the importance of “getting outside of your bubble” and “exposing yourself to different perspectives.” But I think that for future public service attorneys, there is an additional dimension to this concept––the need to understand opposing perspectives not just for our own edification, but also for the sake of the communities we wish to serve.


Julia Eger is a 2L from Altoona, PA. She graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with majors in Economics and Political Science and then served as an AmeriCorps Member at an elementary school. During her 1L summer, Julia interned with the ABA Center on Children and the Law and worked as a Research Assistant for the Commission to Examine Racial Inequity in Virginia Law. She is interested in child welfare, K-12 education, and juvenile justice.

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