In May of 2017, the San Francisco Public Defender launched its Immigration Unit, an innovative team representing local residents locked in detention facilities and facing deportation. The unit was formed in response to the Trump Administration’s threats of mass deportation of undocumented San Franciscans, many of them longtime residents who work, attend school and contribute to the city.
Deputy public defenders trained in immigration law represent clients in federal immigration court. Studies have shown that detained immigrants with attorneys are six times more likely to win their cases than those without legal representation.
Unlike in criminal court, non-citizens in immigration detention do not have the right to court-appointed counsel, and without the Immigration Unit, many would be forced to defend themselves against government trained prosecutors. More than half the detained immigrants with federal 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.
The 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. Members of the Immigration Unit also provide consultations in criminal cases carrying immigration consequences.