In what may be a prelude to the statewide battle on representation for immigrants facing deportation, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi Thursday vowed to keep fighting for due process for immigrants in detention, after the mayor struck a deal that fell far short of the $5 million plan to provide attorneys to all immigrants facing deportation.
Mayor Ed Lee agreed to provide $1.2 million to community-based organizations to enhance existing immigration services.
“While the $1.2 million is a piece of the plan, it will fall short of helping those who need it most, people locked away in civil immigration detention,” Adachi said.
Approximately 68 percent of immigrants in detention centers in San Francisco lack legal counsel.
“These San Franciscans are cut off from their families and communities and forced to defend themselves against trained government attorneys unless they can afford to hire a lawyer,” Adachi said, adding that half of all immigrant detainees have lived in the U.S. for more than a decade.
“These are our neighbors, and they should not be locked up indefinitely without legal representation,” he said.
The plan, which was proposed jointly by the public defender and community-based organizations, would have provided legal representation through the public defender’s office for 400-600 detained immigrants.
The advantages of legal representation are clear. In San Francisco, 83 percent of immigrants facing deportation with a lawyer won their immigration cases, compared to only 11 percent of those without attorneys. Those in detention centers were more than five times as likely to win their cases with the help of a lawyer.
Adachi pointed to the successful models of universal representation in New York and New Jersey, in which public defenders provide counsel for immigrants facing deportation.
“With so many people fearing for their families, it is a shame that San Francisco is not among the cities leading the way in universal representation for immigration proceedings,” Adachi said. “Our office will continue to advocate for funding so that nobody is deported simply because they can’t afford an attorney.”