SF Public Defender Immigration Unit Launches Today

San Francisco—An innovative legal team fighting deportation on behalf of local residents locked in immigration detention launches today, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced.

Three deputy public defenders from the newly-implemented Immigration Unit will report to Federal Immigration Court at 630 Sansome St. at 1 p.m. today to meet their new clients and represent them before the Judge Scott Simpson. Studies have shown that detained immigrants with attorneys are six times more likely to win their cases than those without legal representation.

Adachi noted that in the 100 days since President Donald Trump signed his executive order expanding immigration enforcement priorities, immigration arrests have risen 38 percent nationwide.

“Mass deportation is against our core values as Americans and San Franciscans,” Adachi said. “Due process still means something in this country and we are not going to let the federal government ship off our friends and neighbors without a fight.”

Unlike in criminal court, non-citizens in immigration detention do not have the right to court appointed counsel, explained Francisco Ugarte, managing attorney of the Public Defender’s Immigration Unit. Approximately half of the 1,500 detained immigrants with court dates in San Francisco have been in the U.S. for more than a decade. More than 50 percent have one or more close family members who are citizens.

“These are longtime residents who work, attend school, and contribute to our city,” Ugarte said. “Without this program, most would be forced to defend themselves in court against trained government lawyers.”

Under a deal negotiated between Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer and Mayor Ed Lee in March, the Public Defender’s Office used $200,000 in salary savings to hire three new attorneys and one paralegal through the end of this fiscal year. Each attorney in the new unit will represent approximately 50 clients.

The new program makes San Francisco only the third public defender’s office to offer legal representation for immigrant detainees in removal proceedings. New York City and Alameda County have similar programs.

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