SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco will become the first city in California to provide funding to help immigrants facing deportation obtain an attorney, officials announced Wednesday.
The city’s $100,000 will go to the nonprofit Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, which will use it to provide free legal representation for immigrants living in the country illegally, said Supervisor David Chiu, who created the program. The legal services could total in the millions of dollars, he said.
The initiative is an expansion of the city’s Right to Civil Counsel program that had focused on tenants facing evictions, said Chiu, adding that legal support for children and families fleeing escalating violence in Central America is crucial.
San Francisco has long had a “Sanctuary City” law, which aims to provide refuge for illegal immigrants, he said.
“We needed to do something. In San Francisco, we are a city that has always stood up for and known that our immigrant families make us successful as a city and as a country,” said Chiu, the son of Taiwanese immigrants. “Ensuring ‘liberty and justice for all’ is what this city is all about.”
New York City has a similar program, and California Gov. Jerry Brown and other state officials recently announced a proposal to provide $3 million to immigration attorneys.
“Bolstering legal services is a critical next step to continuing support for this vulnerable population, to ensure they are treated with compassion and respect here,” Mayor Ed Lee said in a statement Wednesday.
Since January, nearly 200 children in San Francisco who entered the country unaccompanied by an adult now have adult sponsors and cases pending in immigration court, the U.S. Health and Human Services Department reported.
Advocates believe there are hundreds more children who have sought refuge in the city without a sponsor, officials added.
The U.S. Justice Department has ordered immigration courts to make cases involving unaccompanied minors entering the country a priority. California has the largest backlog of immigration court cases, followed by Texas and New York, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.
President Barack Obama announced that he would act on his own to address whatever immigration issues he can while immigration legislation stalls in Congress.
Republicans have been swift to decry previous administrative actions on immigration, including Obama’s decision in 2012 to create the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allows many young immigrants to avoid deportation and get a work permit for two years.