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SF supervisors will challenge Mayor Ed Lee to fund 10 new immigration attorneys in Trump era

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Public Defender Jeff Adachi says his office is best-suited to handle a greater volume of cases, should President Donald Trump make good on his promise to increase detentions and deportations. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)


In our immigrant community, the stakes have rarely been higher.

More than 1,500 immigrants detained over the last year in San Francisco are at risk as city officials fear a step-up in deportations from our deranged, orange commander-in-chief, President Donald Trump.

Based on Trump’s public statements,“detentions and deportations are expected to expand in 2017,” wrote The City’s Budget Legislative Analyst, in a draft report obtained by On Guard.

Now, supervisors Sandra Fewer and Jane Kim are introducing a measure to fund a veritable small army of attorneys at the Public Defender’s Office for immigration defense.

Thursday at the Board of Supervisors’ Budget and Finance Committee, the supervisors will introduce a budget supplemental request of $7 million toward the 10 attorneys and seven needed support staff.

“I think the timing is urgent,” Fewer told me. “I think this is a matter of putting resources behind our beliefs.”

So far, Mayor Ed Lee has pushed back, and directed $1.5 million in immigrant defense funding for 15 nonprofit attorneys, instead of Public Defender Jeff Adachi’s team.

“Recent events at [San Francisco International Airport] and in the Mission prove that community based organizations and non-profits are on the front line of legal battles,” the mayor’s spokesperson, Deirdre Hussey, wrote to On Guard. “We continue to encourage the Public Defender to work through the regular budget process.”

But, Fewer told us, attorneys should be funded now, as Trump could step up deportations at any time — and if Adachi waited for the full budget process, he wouldn’t net new immigration attorneys until October.

Reading the tea leaves of the Board of Supervisors vote tentatively scheduled for the end of the month, it may be a tough sell to net a veto-proof eight supervisor votes.

Lee will have his veto pen ready.

Now, to be fair, Lee isn’t ignoring immigrant needs — this is a disagreement about tactics.

But analysis from The City’s Budget Legislative Analyst shows why public defenders are better equipped to handle local deportation cases than nonprofits.

The BLA cited a study showing that between 2012 and 2015 more than 67 percent of the 1,500 detained immigrants had no legal representation in immigration court. To meet that need, the BLA wrote, each of the 10 proposed public defenders would handle between 40 and 60 detainee cases a year. Adachi pointed out that’s a scale nonprofits aren’t equipped to achieve.

“We have a staff of almost 180,” Adachi told On Guard. “With the addition of the lawyers and support staff proposed, our capacity to handle the cases of the detained immigrants is such that we’d be able to provide the representation at a lower cost and handle a greater volume of cases.”

And it’s a model that’s working in New York City right now.

Jennifer Friedman, managing director of Immigration Practice at The Bronx Defenders in New York, said nonprofits generally assess immigration cases for their strengths and weaknesses before choosing to defend people, or not.

“There isn’t any legal service provider I know that takes on all cases provided,” she said, “except for public defenders.”

Even the nonprofits themselves reportedly want the public defenders to handle these cases — this columnist heard from more than one source.

So with all this agreement, why is the mayor pushing back so hard?

Adachi said in his meetings with the Mayor’s Office, the mayor’s Chief of Staff Steve Kawa said he did not want to paint a target on San Francisco’s back for Trump.

Quite simply, it’s fear.

But Lee didn’t promise caution in his State of The City speech, he promised action.

“We are a sanctuary city, now, tomorrow, forever,” he said. Directly addressing Republicans, he added, “Come see what the future of America looks like. Now, it is time to fight back.”

Come rally at the steps of City Hall on Thursday at 9:30 a.m. if you want to tell him to keep his promise.

* * *

The Chinese New Year parade is a great peek at the underpinnings of our politics. And so it went, as Supervisor Aaron Peskin and former state Sen. Mark Leno led the pack of politicos waving hands in the parade, sitting atop a car together.

(Here is a good spot to remind you, dear readers, that Leno is the first of a soon-to-be cavalcade of politicians running for mayor in 2019, to replace Ed Lee.)

As Leno and Peskin rolled down Kearny Street, the Rev. Norman Fong, the parade’s exuberant emcee, introduced the politicians to the crowd.

“And Mark Leno … our new mayor!” Fong shouted, and quickly added “Oops, I wasn’t supposed to say that …”

Jeez, Norman, tell us how you really feel, why don’t you.

* * *

Seen about town, a new Muni advertisement on city buses says “#HIRETRANS” in order to combat employment discrimination of transgender people.

Featured in that ad is Mia “Tu Mutch” Satya, a former Pride community grand marshal, California Democrat delegate, director of a Transitional Age Youth group and San Francisco Women’s March emcee extraordinaire.

But in a case of perhaps too much truth in advertising, Satya is not just a pretty face on the side of a bus: She is, at the moment, truly unemployed.

“Yes, I do still need a job,” she confirmed to On Guard, which she noted was only a recent development.

Will someone hire this badass activist already, please?

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at joe@sfexaminer.com, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at Facebook.com/FitztheReporter.

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