To defend undocumented immigrants from incarceration and deportation under a Donald Trump administration, Supervisor David Campos and other city officials are pushing for $5 million in funding to hire attorneys to the Public Defender’s office and community nonprofits.
Campos’s joint proposal with Public Defender Jeff Adachi hinges on the idea that those facing immigration proceedings should have legal counsel, like any other person accused of a crime. Currently, undocumented immigrants facing deportation do not have the right to a court-appointed attorney, though some are able to find lawyers through nonprofits.
Immigrants facing proceedings are four times as likely to win their cases with a lawyer on their side – if they have been detained, a lawyer makes it seven times as likely that they will prevail, according to the California Coalition for Universal Representation.
“This ensures that the thousands of people that are in detention proceedings actually get the legal representation that they need to protect their rights,” Campos said on Tuesday during the Board of Supervisors meeting in which he introduced the funding proposal.
The funding, if approved, would allow the Public Defender’s Office to hire 10 attorneys, five paralegals, and two clerks. Community-based organizations would get funding for 13 attorneys, six outreach and education workers, and rapid response staff like case workers.
For the next fiscal year, making those hires and keeping the program running would require about $5 million from the city budget. Voters recently rejected a sales tax increase, and the city is also facing a $5 billion pension shortfall and threats from the president-elect to cut federal funding, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The city has some $1 billion in federal funding, and though not all of that is at risk, city officials are looking at whether they should scale back programs, like the care of street trees, tax breaks for tech companies, or reducing City College tuition, to balance the budget.
At a press conference on the City Hall steps on Tuesday, Campos said the mayor’s office had been critical of giving funds to the public defender and might oppose it.
“You can’t on one hand say you are a sanctuary city and on the other not support a proposal that makes sure we actually are,” Campos said.
A spokesperson for the mayor did not say whether the mayor would oppose the move, but wrote in an email that Lee “supports additional funding [for] community-based organizations and will work through the budget process with the Public Defender’s Office.”
On Tuesday, Campos invited immigrants who have had encounters with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to speak at the press conference.
“When you’re up there in that cell looking down, nobody looks up. You’re forgotten,” said Isolda Matamoros at the conference, remembering her time in a local immigrant detention facility. Matamoros said her children suffered from depression and her daughter began self-harming under the stress of her detention.
Saul Lopez said she spent six months detained by ICE and was released only with the help of attorneys, who helped him decipher the documents he was being presented by officials.
“I was one of the few lucky ones that got an attorney,” Lopez said. “The attorneys read every single paper to me that ICE gave to me that I didn’t understand.”
Another immigrant, who gave only his first name, Joaquin, recalled having ICE agents appear at his door.
“They asked everyone for their IDs, even my nephews, who were four and five years old,” he said. “To this day they are afraid when they see police officers.”
Joaquin said the relative the officials were looking for was detained, and freed after paying a bond.
Ana Herrera, who works at the nonprofit Dolores Street Community Services, said there are some 37,000 pending deportation cases in San Francisco alone. About 1,500 local immigrants are currently in detention. When they have legal representation, she said, things look up.
“When we fight ICE, and we have, we win,” Herrera said. “It takes our community to defend ourselves against Donald Trump.”