San Francisco— Attorneys providing free or low-cost immigration defense can soon draw upon funding for expert witnesses to provide critical evidence on behalf of detained immigrants fighting to stay in the U.S., San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced today.
The Immigration Defense Fund (IDF), launched today, is a joint effort by the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office and the International Institute of the Bay Area (IIBA), a non-profit agency providing legal services, education and civic engagement opportunities to immigrants, refugees and their families. The funds, which are contributed by private donors and foundations, will provide grants to attorneys working on behalf of detained immigrants beginning Jan. 1, 2018. Funds may be donated here: http://bit.ly/defendimmigrants.
“Expert witnesses can make or break a case,” Adachi said. “Experts can testify to the risks of persecution and torture in an immigrant’s home country, verify past physical and sexual abuse, and help immigration judges understand the complex effects of trauma and the circumstances which led an immigrant to flee.”
The cost to hire a single expert to present evidence in court ranges from $500-$1,000 per case, putting this vital service out of reach for most detained immigrants. Unlike those charged in criminal court, people fighting immigration cases must pay for their own defense or find attorneys to represent them pro bono. San Francisco is among three jurisdictions nationwide to provide immigration defense through its public defender’s office, but the specialized team can only serve about 10 percent of those currently housed in Bay Area detention facilities.
The availability of funding comes during a dramatic increase in immigration enforcement. In the first half of 2017, ICE officers arrested nearly 54,700 people across the country—37 percent more than the same period last year, according to ICE statistics.
“IIBA is committed to ensuring that all immigrants receive the due process and access to justice they deserve,” said IIBA Executive Director Ellen Dumesnil. “This fund will help ensure that those who may not otherwise have the resources to defend themselves will. Access to justice is now more critical than ever.”
IDF grants will initially be available only to nonprofits agencies in San Francisco, though the organizers hope to expand to other Bay Area counties. Agencies must provide direct legal representation to detained immigrants facing deportation. Grants are available up to $1,000. For more information on applying for grants, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. To contribute to the fund, please visit http://bit.ly/defendimmigrants