Oakland, SF Take First Steps to Fund Immigration Defense Network
PostGroupNews by Tulio Espina
December 16, 2016 10:11 am
While Alameda and San Francisco counties are seeking to allocate funds for an immigration legal defense fund, local immigrant rights groups are saying it’s a good start but not yet enough to handle the level of deportations they expect to see under president-elect Donald Trump.
Community-based organizations are pressuring SF Mayor Ed Lee and several county supervisors to follow through on their commitment to legally protect the undocumented residents of their city and have been demanding the allocation of $5 million for local nonprofits and the Public Defender’s office to hire more immigration attorneys. Lee is rejecting that proposal in favor of his own, which does not include the Public Defender’s office (PD), which means fewer attorneys over all.
“Community-based organizations can help when people come to our doors but only the PD’s office can definitely help when people are in detention,” said Maricela Esparza, program manager for San Francisco Immigrant Legal & Education Network (SFILEN).
“Only the Public Defender’s office has the infrastructure and specific knowledge to truly handle these detained cases,” she said.
The issue, say immigrant rights advocates, is that the city is unwilling to represent undocumented immigrants who have been arrested in the past or who have criminal records, the primary targets of Trump’s comments. The priority is providing legal representation for the city’s undocumented youth who are living in the country with temporary work permits, or DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), they say. Lee’s proposal would also take the funds needed to hire attorneys from Prop W, the transfer tax intended to ensure free tuition for all students at SF City College.
On Monday, dozens of community members went to SF City Hall to personally deliver handwritten letters to Mayor Lee and Supervisors London Breed and others, asking them to support the community’s proposal. Meanwhile in Oakland, the City Council on Tuesday took the first step to allocating $300,000 over two years to Alameda County’s own immigration rapid response network. The funds would go towards a $1.3 million proposal put together by local immigrant advocacy groups to hire five new immigration attorneys and create a hotline to alert these groups in the event of a raid.
The proposal has the support of Centro Legal de la Raza, the Unity Council, Block by Block Organizing Network, Mujeres Unidas y Activas (MUA), and several faith leaders and members of the Oakland Unified School District.
“When someone is arrested by ICE (Immigration & Customs Enforcement) and put into detention, one of the biggest concerns we see in the women who come to us is that there really are not a lot of options in Oakland for legal assistance other than private attorneys,” said Lourdes Martinez, political director of MUA. According to Martinez, hiring attorneys is “prohibitively expensive” and most do not have the resources to be legally represented in immigration court.
Unlike criminal court where defendants are guaranteed legal representation and due process under the Constitution, people in immigration court are only granted lawyers if they have the resources to obtain one. Community members are asking Alameda County government and individual cities to make sure that the proposal gets fully funded before Trump takes office in January.
“It’s a good start and we’re getting there, but we need the proposal to be fully funded,” said Bianca Ramirez, a student at Fremont High School, at Tuesday’s council meeting.
“As a student, these are my peers we’re talking about. This is my little sister, my older brother and my loved ones going to school in fear” that their parents won’t be there when they return home, she said.
“If people say that children are the future, then prove it to us and show us. Stop talking and let us know by your actions. That is the best thing you can do,” Ramirez said.
The City Council will vote on the resolution to allocate the $300,000 in January.
By Tulio Ospina – http://postnewsgroup.com/blog/2016/12/16/oakland-sf-take-first-steps-fund-immigration-defense-network/