At a rally held Tuesday at noon on City Hall steps, Supervisor David Campos joined non-profit organizations and the Public Defender’s Office for the second time in a week to push the mayor to find $5 million for immigrant legal defense within next year’s budget.
The money would be divided almost equally among community non-profits and the Public Defender’s Office to hire attorneys and staff to assist those facing deportation — a point of contention, since Mayor Ed Lee seems unwilling to further fund the Public Defender’s Office.
“I want to be honest, the biggest sticking point right now from what we hear from the mayor’s office is they want to leave the public defender out,” Campos said. “And what’s ironic is that the very community that they’re saying they support, those community leaders, lawyers, are saying we need the public defender.”
A spokesperson for the mayor said community-based organizations did not explicitly take a stance on Campos’s proposal, but said non-profits are already doing the work the proposal seeks to fund.
“The administration supports funding community-based organizations, who are already doing this work and have track-record of success, to expand their services to deal with the current and anticipated needs,” wrote the mayor’s spokesperson, Deirdre Hussey, in an email.
San Francisco faces a $119 million budget deficit in the next fiscal year, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, and $848 million in the next five years.
At Tuesday’s press conference, two immigrant rights lawyers said the Public Defender’s Office was the only agency with the ability to adequately defend immigrants against deportation.
“The public defender’s expertise and focus on the defense of immigrants is so important,” said Lara Kiswani of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center. The organization handles legal defense for hundreds of clients a year, but Kiswani said its attorneys can only handle about one or two deportation cases a year.
Francisco Ugarte, the public defender who would presumably lead the team of lawyers within the Public Defender’s Office, said the office had the knowledge and staff to protect immigrants from deportations under a Donald Trump administration.
Ugarte, who has worked with non-profits previously, said they have other responsibilities like outreach and education and cannot devote as much time to legal proceedings. Only the Public Defender’s Office, he said, has the requisite experience in the justice system.
Luis Angel, an undocumented immigrant and a lawyer, claimed that Mayor Lee had privately spoken to him of supporting beneficiaries of the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects undocumented immigrants who arrived as minors.
Angel said Lee’s support did not extend to detained immigrants and that he was being narrow in supporting DACA beneficiaries.
“This sows confusion and division in our community,” Angel said. “It reinforces the xenophobic ideas that there are people who are not deserving.”
Lee’s spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on that claim.
The legislation is unlikely to succeed unless Supervisor London Breed, the board president, agrees to fast-track the legislation for a vote before the newly elected supervisors take their seats. Breed told the Chronicle she will not do so unless Campos and the mayor come to an agreement about what the policy should look like.
One way or another, those at Tuesday’s rally agreed, having a lawyer is often the key to success in immigration proceedings.
Yanci Lopez, Luis Angel’s client, said at the rally that her husband was detained by immigration officials shortly after the election for a minor offense that occurred in 2012. Her husband is still in jail, and she is working with a non-profit attorney on his case.
“For me, it’s very difficult to talk to my child to tell them why their father is not coming home,” she said. “Fortunately, we have a lawyer who is supporting us very much. But we have to support the families who are the suffering the same as my family and I.”