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San Diego County immigrant legal defense program launches

The sign at the entrance of the Otay Mesa Immigration and Detention Center is displayed in San Diego, June 22, 2018. (Katie Schoolov / KPBS)

San Diego County now offers free legal services to deported immigrants, officials said Thursday, making the county the first to do so along the U.S.-Mexico border. The program so far has about a dozen clients, officials said.

The Immigrant Pilot Legal Advocacy Program provides attorneys for people detained by immigration authorities, either in detention centers such as the Otay Mesa Detention Center or in alternative detention programs such as GPS tracking.

“It’s going to change lives,” said Terra Lawson-Remer. District County Surveillance 3r proposed the program, during a press conference on Thursday.


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The county has budgeted $ 5 million in the first year of the program to pay for legal services provided by three nonprofits: Immigrant Plan in Southern California, San Diego Jewish Family Serviceand Immigrant Justice Program of the American Bar Association. The money also includes $ 500,000 for translation services.

More than 8,000 deportation cases are currently pending in San Diego County. More than 40% of these cases are not represented by a lawyer, according to Clearing office of access to transaction files at the University of Syracuse.

Historically, representation has been much lower. Since 2002, only about 12% of deported immigrants facing deportation to San Diego courts have been represented by a lawyer, TRAC figures show.

Lawson-Remer said the goal is to serve about 1,000 customers with the current budget, but that number could increase. If the funds are depleted, Lawson-Remer said the board of trustees is committed to approving additional funds for the program that will serve more people.

“There is a commitment from our council to fully fund the program so we did not want to put a ceiling on them because we really want to be able to serve everyone,” Lawson-Remer said.

In addition to nonprofits, the program receives applications from attorneys to serve on a committee to increase the capacity of the program, said Michael Garcia, chief deputy of the county’s Office of Assistant Counsel, which assists in managing the program through of the Office of the Public Defender.

Proponents of immigration initially rejected the eligibility requirement for the “detainees” program, fearing that a growing number of people in alternative detention programs would be left out. inewsource had been mentioned before. However, the supervisory board chose to designate “in general” detainees to include these programs, Garcia said.

These advocates promoted the model of universal representation – where anyone facing deportation procedures in the county would receive a power of attorney from the government.

Under the new program, however, deportees who are not in any form of detention, including alternatives to prison, will not be eligible for free legal services.

Lawson-Remer said she hopes to escalate the program to achieve universal representation in the future.

“We wanted to get there, but we also did not want to fail the first year,” said Lawson-Remer. “The hope is that, you know, in the next 18 months or so, we will be able to escalate into a universal program, but I do not want to make promises that we cannot keep.”

The program will be based on nonprofits that provide word-of-mouth services to the community, Lawson-Remer said. Program leaflets with telephone numbers for each of the nonprofits will also be distributed to the Otay Mesa Detention Center, a private detention center that houses detainees from the U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The ACLU of San Diego and Imperial County is part of the program’s advisory team and plans to “ensure that the immigrant advocacy program is successful and becomes a permanent part of San Diego County,” said Norma Chávez-Peterson. the non-profit organization. Executive Director.

“The immigrant legal protection program makes our nation’s immigration system a little fairer and more humane,” Chavez-Peterson said. “We have a long way to go.”

How to get help

Who is suitable:

The San Diego County Immigrant Rights Program is limited to deportees who are being held in a detention center or alternative detention programs, such as GPS tracking, ankle bracelets, telephone reporting, and SmartLINK smartphone face recognition.

What you need:

Those interested in the program’s services should have the following information available:

  • Name
  • Date of birth
  • Booking A #
  • Expected issue of immigrant defense (eg asylum, lifting of criminal conviction, suspension of deportation, etc.)

Who to call:

ABA Immigration Justice Project

619-736-3315 // Opening hours: 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.

Southern California Immigration Project

619-516-8119 // Opening hours: 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.

Jewish Family Service

858-637-3365 // Voice messages were returned in the order in which they were received.


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