Jurisdiction for Mesa Verde Detention Facility Cases Moved from San Francisco to Van Nuys, Impacting Access to Counsel

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(From Press Release – JDC) —The Justice & Diversity Center of the Bar Association of San Francisco (JDC) denounces the Executive Office for Immigration Review’s (EOIR) decision to transfer the jurisdiction of noncitizens housed at Mesa Verde from the San Francisco Immigration Court to the new Van Nuys Immigration Court.

JDC’s Immigrant Legal Defense Program (ILDP) runs the pro bono Attorney of the Day program at the San Francisco Immigration Court. Through this program, most noncitizens detained at Mesa Verde receive a consultation before they see an immigration judge. ILDP staff also refer individuals to other non-profit immigration legal services organizations, pro bono attorneys, and Bay Area Public Defenders offices for full-scope representation. Similar programs do not exist in the Van Nuys Immigration Court.

If jurisdiction for all detainees at Mesa Verde is transferred to Van Nuys, noncitizens will lose access to legal advice, counsel, and the pro se assistance that ILDP provides to detainees who cannot secure counsel. While Van Nuys is geographically closer to Mesa Verde Detention Center, which is in Bakersfield, California, all cases are heard via video teleconference. Accordingly, ease of transfer of detainees to court is not a factor in this move. Rather, as the San Francisco and Alameda County Public Defenders Offices asserted in their press release, ILDP believes that the administration is purposely transferring jurisdiction to prevent noncitizens detained at Mesa Verde from accessing counsel. Moreover, EOIR’s lack of transparency about this major change is distressing. In December, EOIR officials advised stakeholders that Mesa Verde cases would not be moving to Van Nuys. Without notice, last week, EOIR announced that jurisdiction was changing and that such change would go into effect in three weeks.

JDC’s ILDP, as part of the California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice (CCIJ), sent a letter to EOIR leadership requesting that the agency halt the transfer of jurisdiction, or at least delay implementation of the move until a stakeholder meeting can be held. CCIJ will continue to push for a stakeholder meeting with EOIR.

Valerie Zukin, Legal Director of CCIJ and ILDP’s supervising attorney explained in the letter to EOIR, “Mesa Verde has been part of the San Francisco Immigration Court jurisdiction since the detention facility opened in 2015, and CCIJ organizations and partner agencies have been working diligently to increase regional capacity to represent individuals detained at the facility since that time.”


LETTER RE: STAKEHOLDER MEETING REQUEST – ACCESS TO COUNSEL FOR RESPONDENTS DETAINED AT THE MESA VERDE FACILITY IN BAKERSFIELD

Dear Director McHenry, Acting Chief Immigration Judge Santoro, Deputy Chief Immigration Judge Maggard, Deputy Chief Immigration Judge Cheng, and Acting Assistant Chief Immigration Judge Seppanen,

We write to express our alarm that Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) intends to abruptly change the venue of the cases of respondents detained at the Mesa Verde ICE Processing
Center in Bakersfield, California to the new Van Nuys Immigration Court as of February 3, 2020. As detailed below, we implore that the change be halted, at a minimum, to permit stakeholders to
provide input and that the impact on the detainees’ access to legal services be considered. As such, we request a stakeholder meeting with EOIR before the implementation of any change of venue for respondents detained at Mesa Verde.

We are a coalition of pro bono legal service provider offices that has worked for years to increase access to legal assistance and counsel for individuals on the San Francisco detained dockets, which include individuals detained at Mesa Verde. We have significantly increased pro bono representation capacity on the detained docket in the San Francisco Immigration Court. In partnership with, among others, JDC, Centro Legal de la Raza, Asian Americans Advancing Justice—Asian Law Caucus, Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto, and the San Francisco Office of the Public Defender, California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice (CCIJ) has secured representation for hundreds of detainees during 2019 alone. In addition, we have worked with the Justice & Diversity Center (JDC) of The Bar Association of San Francisco to successfully increase pro bono coverage on the detained dockets from 2% in 2016 to well over 50% in 2019.

Mesa Verde has been part of the San Francisco Immigration Court jurisdiction since the detention facility opened in 2015, and CCIJ organizations and partner agencies have been working diligently to increase regional capacity to represent individuals detained at the facility since that time. CCIJ partners have plans to continue to serve detainees housed at Mesa Verde in 2020 and beyond. These plans have required significant programmatic development and fundraising to ensure that the detainees have continued access to consultations, pro se assistance, and full scope legal services. Detained individuals already have significant obstacles to accessing counsel and are represented at lower rates than those individuals who are not in detention. As a result, we are troubled about the sudden transfer of cases to the new Court where no such pro bono infrastructure exists.

We are extremely concerned about this sudden change, which will significantly impede access to existing legal services for individuals detained at Mesa Verde. We request that EOIR halt implementation of the change. Alternatively, we request that EOIR delay implementation to afford an opportunity for community stakeholders to provide input about the impact on access to existing legal services. We also request a stakeholder meeting with EOIR prior to the implementation of any change of venue for respondents detained at Mesa Verde.

Sincerely,

ACLU of California
Alameda County Immigration Legal and Education Partnership
Alianza Sacramento
Becker & Lee LLP
CARECEN SF
Central Valley Immigrant Integration Collaborative
Community Justice Alliance
Contra Costa Public Defender’s Office
Higuera Law
Immigrant Defense Advocates
Immigrant Legal Defense
Immigrant Legal Resource Center
Innovation Law Lab
Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity
Jewish Family & Community Services East Bay
Justice & Diversity Center of The Bar Association of San Francisco
Kehilla Community Synagogue
La Raza Centro Legal
Latinos United for a New America
Law Office of Helen Lawrence
NorCal Resist
Office of Berkeley Mayor, Jesse Arreguin
Open Immigration Legal Services
Pajaro Valley Rapid Response
Pangea Legal Services
Rapid Response Network in Santa Clara County
San Francisco Immigrant Legal & Education Network
San Joaquin College of Law- New American Legal Clinic
Services, Immigrant Rights & Education Network (SIREN)
SF Public Defender’s Office
Stand Together Contra Costa
STEP UP! Sacramento
UFW Foundation
University of San Francisco Immigration & Deportation Defense Clinic
USF Immigration and Deportation Defense Clinic
VIDAS Legal Services

Valerie Zukin – Legal Director – California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice


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