The Otay Mesa Immigration Court. Photo via corecivic.com.
A program for the legal representation of immigrants facing deportation was approved by the San Diego County Regulatory Agency with a 3-2 vote on Tuesday.
After nearly two hours of public hearing, the board virtually voted, and many called to support Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer’s proposal.
According to the Lawson-Remer office, San Diego is the first southern county to have a program to provide such legal assistance to immigrants facing deportation.
San Diego, we did it! In an historic vote, the Board of Trustees today approved our proposal to provide legal representation for all immigrants detained and deported in San Diego County.
A big thank you to the fierce community advocates who made this possible! pic.twitter.com/tyAuVCQ842
– Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer (@SupLawsonRemer) May 4, 2021
The program will begin as a one-year pilot worth $ 5 million and eventually become a permanent program under the San Diego County Office of Public Defender and in partnership with regional immigration authorities and nonprofits.
The county staff will report to the board within 90 days to fund and run the program on a permanent basis.
Lawson-Remer said the program will help resolve the current backlog in immigration courts.
Lawson-Remer said the problem was personal to her because three of her grandparents fled Europe because they feared for their lives. Establishing a legal protection program “will strengthen our values as Americans,” she said.
Superiors Joel Anderson and Jim Desmond voted against.
Desmond said he appreciated hearing from the many ardent supporters and wished the county had more money to help those in need.
“However, this is a federal issue and we should communicate with them for more support,” Desmond said. “I will not support the article.”
Anderson did not give a formal reason for the no vote.
Lawson-Remer’s proposal was supported by the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties, Jewish Family Services of San Diego, and the Invest in San Diego Families Coalition.
During the public convocation phase, the board heard from over 100 people who were most in favor of the proposal.
Liz Kenney, assistant program director for the SAFE initiative at the Vera Institute of Justice, said offering legal assistance means keeping families together if an immigrant can win their case or at least be released on bail.
Kenney added that more cities are funding anti-deportation programs.
One woman, who did not give her full name, said California was already a “protected area state” spending billions on immigrants in the country without legal permission.
The woman said the board should instead focus its efforts on legitimate residents and their needs.