More than 2.3 million illegal immigrants who are living in California, six percent of the state’s population, may not have to worry about paying a dime of legal expenses by the Fourth of July holiday weekend.
Because of fears of the Trump administration’s plans to deport criminals among the undocumented, several cities and counties in California have set up legal defense funds to pay the bills of illegal immigrants if they are arrested.
Similar legislation to set up a statewide defense fund is moving through the California Legislature with little opposition.
The Voice of OC reported the Santa Ana City Council instructed city staff to work with the ACLU and the UC Irvine School of Law to set up a program to pay the legal bills of illegal immigrants living in the city.
Councilman Vicente Sarmiento sponsored the proposal after immigrant activists told him they were worried about mass deportations.
“Now they’re going to go after anybody who has a [criminal] charge,” said Sarmiento. “In the world of due process, that just means you have to be accused of something, and the accusation could be very, very unfounded. That’s scary.”
Two other councilmen raised concerns about the city’s legal liability and whether tax dollars would be used to defend violent criminals. But by the end of the discussion, councilmen voted “yes.”
Three new attorneys and one paralegal will be hired by the city of San Francisco to staff a new program to provide free assistance to illegal immigrants facing deportation.
San Francisco Patch reported that Mayor Ed Lee gave his blessing to the package and has authorized the city’s Public Defender’s Office to allocate more than $200,000 from the current year’s budget to pay for the new employees.
Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer said there are usually 1,500 people in immigration detention in San Francisco on any given day. As many as 85 percent of them don’t have a lawyer or any way to pay for one.
And without naming names, Fewer also said those illegal immigrants need the city help like never before.
“San Francisco, in the face of a federal attack on immigrant communities, should be leading on this issue and I’m glad that we have taken this important first step,” she said.
Alameda County is going to spend as much as $750,000 to defend illegal immigrants facing the specter of deportation.
County Board President Wilma Chan said as many as 105,000 of the 439,000 people who call Alameda County home are in the U.S. illegally.
“I think this is just the first step,” Chan said. “I’m going to continue to work on this with other funders.”
Chan also told CBS-San Francisco that she had been looking for other funding sources ever since Donald Trump was elected president in November.
Oakland City Councilman Noel Gallo spoke in support of the Alameda County program.
“It’s really about the children and families,” he said, “to make sure they have a chance to grow in this country.”
Gallo and his fellow council members have committed $150,000 Oakland tax dollars to a similar program to pay for the lawyers needed to fight off deportations.
The California Legislature is a bit late getting on board, as Democrats are pushing a proposal that would set up a statewide program to pay the legal bills of illegal residents of the U.S. who are fighting deportation.
Senate Bill 6 would create, as the Los Angeles Times reported, the largest legal defense program in America for illegal immigrants.
“This issue had been out there for a while,” said Daniel Sharp, legal director of the Central American Resource Center. “The Trump election fast-forwarded it.”
SB 6 passed a California Senate committee this week 5-2. The latest version would take $12 million from the state’s general fund to pay for what would be called the California Universal Representation Trust Fund.
The fund would then accept donations from philanthropic sources.
Would California taxpayers foot the bill to pay for the legal representation of convicted felons? Under the last version, the answer is “yes.”
Sen. Ben Hueso, a Democrat from San Diego, originally wrote the proposal to exclude felons. But that was revised March 1 to loosen the restriction.
Where are the Republicans in this debate?
David DeVoss wrote in the Weekly Standard that the California Republican Party is “hovering between endangered and extinct.”
“California’s political climate is insane,” Joel Kotkin, executive editor of newgeography.com and a professor of urban studies at Chapman University in Orange County, told the Weekly Standard. “Say anything nice about Trump and people look at you as if you have the mark of Cain.”