New legislation set to be introduced later this week by Supervisor Sandra Fewer could create a team of lawyers inside the Public Defender’s Office tasked with defending noncitizen immigrants who face deportation under President Donald Trump’s promised aggressive immigration enforcement.
The legislation would pay for 17 new positions over the next several years: 10 attorneys, five paralegals and two aides. The team could deal with as many as 600 detainer cases a year and would be modeled on a similar program in New York City, which gives immigrants without the right to a lawyer free defense.
The move could also show that San Francisco — a city with more than 100,000 noncitizen residents, nearly half of whom are undocumented — isn’t simply rhetorically supporting immigrants, said Public Defender Jeff Adachi.
“I think it’s a moral imperative at this point with executive orders and the raids or the threat of raids that we finally provide representation to immigrants who are being detained,” said Adachi.
On average, about 7,000 people are deported each year from San Francisco’s immigration courts, and just last year about 1,700 immigrants were detained out of San Francisco, according to a draft Budget Analyst report on the plan.
The plan is expected to cost about $1.9 million in its first year, and by the time the team is fully staffed roughly $5 million annually, according to the analysis.
Mayor Ed Lee funded a separate plan to help detained immigrants earlier this year by helping community organizations that work with immigrants, but that was before Trump’s inauguration.
“The mayor has, and will continue, to fund legal services for immigrants,” said mayoral spokesperson Deirdre Hussey. “The mayor committed $3.8 million in this year’s budget to fund a variety of legal services to assist and protect immigrants. He added an additional $1.5 million after the November election following meetings with the community based organizations who expressed the need for additional rapid response funds.”
Hussey did not specifically say whether the mayor will support Fewer’s legislation.
“The Public Defender will end the fiscal year (June 30, 2017) with a surplus of $200,000 in salary savings due to delayed hiring. The Public Defender has the opportunity to move quickly to hire attorneys with these existing funds. We continue to encourage the Public Defender to work through the regular budget process.”