S.F. Public Defender Launches Immigration Unit

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The San Francisco Public Defender’s Office will launch a new unit dedicated solely to helping detained immigrants fight deportation under a deal approved by the mayor.

The Public Defender’s Office will use $200,000 in budget savings to hire three new attorneys and one paralegal to assist immigrant detainees through the end of this fiscal year. Each lawyer will handle about 50 cases, under the deal Mayor Ed Lee approved Friday.

“These new positions will allow us to fight on behalf of approximately 150 immigrants locked in deportation detention and separated from their families,” San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi said in a statement Monday.

About 1,500 immigrants are locked in four detention centers within 300 miles of San Francisco. Those facing deportation are not entitled to a lawyer unless they can hire one or find one to take their case pro bono.

A proposal to add $2.2 million to the Public Defender’s Office for a new immigration unit failed to make it through the San Francisco Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Sub-Committee last week.

Adachi said he would continue to push for funding to hire more immigration attorneys when supervisors craft next fiscal year’s budget, which takes effect July 1.

As one of its first new hires, the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office has welcomed Jennifer Friedman, director of immigration practice at the Bronx Defenders in New York, Adachi said Monday.

Friedman’s work at the Bronx Defenders was funded by the New York Immigration Family Unity Project, a city-funded program that provides immigrants access to legal counsel.

New York City, which launched the nation’s first public defender program for immigrants in 2014, spends about $30 million a year on universal representation for detainees, according to a report by the San Francisco Budget and Legislative Analyst’s Office.

A December 2015 study by the University of Pennsylvania Law Review found more than 85 percent of detained immigrants had no legal representation in removal cases nationwide, and those without a lawyer were far less likely to seek asylum or other forms of relief from deportation.