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San Diego County approves plan to provide legal representation to immigrants

Justice delayed: Virus crisis upends courts system across US
Posted at 4:28 PM, May 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-04 19:29:37-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — San Diego County's Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to approve a plan to provide legal representation to immigrants facing removal proceedings.

The 3-2 vote, with Supervisors Joel Anderson and Jim Desmond casting the dissenting votes, allows the county to move forward with a program that will fund attorneys to represent detained immigrants in San Diego County. The plan was originally proposed by Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer.

"Three of my great-grandparents fled to the U.S. to escape the torture and mass killings of Jews in Europe, and one hundred years later our country is still a beacon of hope for people fleeing persecution. When we keep America’s promise of equal justice for all, we give immigrants dignity, we make the legal system more efficient, and we strengthen our values as Americans," Lawson-Remer said.

The plan will start off as a $5 million one-year pilot program and eventually become a permanent resource within the San Diego County Office of the Public Defender. The office will work with regional immigrant defense agencies and non-profits.

Lawson-Remer says the program will help address the current backlog in immigration courts and save taxpayer dollars. According to Lawson-Remer's office, taxpayers spent about $2 billion on detention costs nationwide involving immigrants in the fiscal year 2016. Her hope is that this program will help move people more efficiently through the system.

"Our justice system should be based on facts and law, not access to wealth and resources. Everyone in this nation, whether a citizen or not, has an established right under our constitution to be represented by legal counsel, and this program will help immigrants afford the ability to have a fair day in court," said Lawson-Remer, who is also an attorney.

San Diego County staff will report back in 90 days with a plan to permanently fund and operate the program.

"The stakes of immigration proceedings can be literally life and death. Deportations are dividing families and destroying communities," said Kate Clark, Jewish Family Service of San Diego’s senior director of immigration services. "All too often immigrants proceed with their cases unrepresented and are at a loss to navigate a system which often confounds even the experts. Legal representation is more crucial than ever and Jewish Family Service stands in full support of the Immigrant Rights Legal Defense Program."