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Detention Watch Network

Applying public pressure to abolish immigrant detention across the country

The Challenge

Immigration detention is a human rights crisis that is not getting enough attention and focus amid the change of administration.

The Insight

Know when and where to use your voice. A tight and timely message will go the distance with reporters and help cut through an otherwise busy conversation.

The Solution

A comprehensive earned and owned media campaign that positioned Detention Watch Network as an expert in the space, building long-term relationships with press and policymakers.

Detention Watch Network (DWN) is a national coalition that is building power through collective advocacy, grassroots organizing, and strategic communications to abolish immigration detention in the United States.

The only national network that focuses exclusively on immigration detention, Detention Watch Network brings together diverse constituencies to advance civil and human rights.

In March 2021, Detention Watch Network tapped Blue State to raise their profile nationally. To make a mark in a crowded immigrant advocacy landscape, we helped hone in on their earned media strategy, and build their social media presence through creative content.

More than the border

Coming out of a disastrous four years of Trump, there was an opportunity to push the Biden Administration in the opposite direction and close private detention facilities (a promise which Biden has made since taking office). The optimistic tone between President Biden and newly appointed Secretary of Homeland Security Mayorkas and activist organizations like Detention Watch Network quickly began to turn. Other issues took up the airwaves and immigration detention took a backseat. The conversation around immigration often zeroed in on the border or immigration policy, not detention practices. The situation for individuals in detention became more critical and patience around the country grew thinner.

To make sure this issue was front and center in an otherwise crowded conversation, we executed an earned media strategy around DWN’s central campaigns, including“Communities Not Cages,” which guided our interactions with press in the immigration space as well as the content we created for social media. The messaging helped center Detention Watch Network in the fight to end immigration detention, amplifying storytelling that centers the communities experiencing the inhumanity of the immigration detention system every day. 

Shifting the conversation

Once the goals for the campaign were realized, our in-house designers created captivating social graphics for Detention Watch Network and their coalition partners to use on their respective social media channels to drive broader education and awareness. The consistent look and feel that was developed using bright oranges, stark blue backgrounds, and intentional typefaces and textures made the assets more recognizable as DWN pieces.

The content created helped leverage Detention Watch Network’s research reports and whitepapers, earned media hits, and breaking news stories cohesively to keep our audience engaged. 

A foundation of trust and transparency

As immigration detention centers expanded and navigated the Biden Administration’s updated detention policies, DWN led with a more reactive, local-based media approach. Local coalition leaders would speak on the issues affecting a certain community, but the national conversation wasn’t evolving like it needed to. 

To get the attention of the Administration, we had to be strategic and start building relationships with reporters who would understand the long-term goals of the coalition and the broader story about how America treats its immigrants. 

Throughout the course of our partnership, we worked hand in hand with the DWN team to develop trust with key reporters to help shape the narrative around immigration detention. Our team closely monitored the news cycle and stayed in close communication with the DWN team to ensure that we were optimally positioned to rapidly respond to news as expert resources in the field. 

Our team helped secure prominent placements in outlets like The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Business Insider, and The Cut through a blend of rapid-response statements, media availabilities during breaking news, and formal reporter briefings — all while raising Detention Watch Network’s national profile as an immigrant advocacy leader and resource for reporters, something that continued to flourish even after our partnership concluded. Our team also capitalized on DWN’s “Communities Not Cages Day of Action” to make a moment in the press, which resulted in hits in national outlets like ABC News, Daily Kos and Border Report, and regional publications like the Philadelphia Inquirer, Politico NJ, and The Atlanta Journal Constitution

We also supported in-person and virtual events with media outreach, consulting on activations like the “Free Them All” art installation at the White House in July 2021. We helped DWN find an artist for the installation, and advised on media outreach around the event which led to a Teen Vogue exclusive.

Teen Vogue story for DWN
Detention Watch Network orchestrated an activation outside the White House on July 22, displaying portraits by artist Angelica Frausto.
Detention Watch Network "FREE THEM ALL" tweet

Embedded from the start

Being a true extension of the passionate team at Detention Watch Network helped our operation move smoothly. From the start of our partnership, our team was seamlessly woven into the fabric of Detention Watch Network’s organization. In the end, this makes all the difference. 

During our partnership, we were able to position Detention Watch Network as a leader in the immigration conversation and the group reporters would go to for comment on the ever-evolving situation.

Now, Detention Watch Network has a wide network of supporters who will help hold the Biden Administration accountable so we can someday have an immigration system that treats every individual with compassion, dignity, and respect.


  • 162 national and regional press hits throughout the campaign
  • 64 unique clips secured in national and local publications for the Communities Not Cages Day of Action
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