POLITICS
09/17/2014 12:33 pm ET Updated Sep 17, 2014

San Francisco Supervisors Vote To Provide Lawyers For Kids Facing Deportation

WASHINGTON -- San Francisco is one step closer to providing more than $2 million for legal representation for undocumented minors and parents who would otherwise face complicated deportation proceedings alone.

The county board of supervisors voted unanimously on Tuesday to approve about $2.1 million over the next two years to provide attorneys for unaccompanied minors and adults with children in San Francisco who face deportation after the recent influx of both groups crossing the border illegally this year. The board will vote again on the measure next Tuesday and then send it to San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee (D) for final approval.

The federal government does not provide legal representation for undocumented immigrants, including children, in removal proceedings. But the need for attorneys for minors and parents is particularly high now, as Border Patrol agents have picked up more than 66,000 unaccompanied minors crossing the southern border illegally since the beginning of last October. There was a similar uptick in apprehensions of families, particularly mothers, traveling with their children.

Although the rate at which minors and families were crossing the border illegally has dropped from a high point this summer, the tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants who already crossed are going through removal proceedings and often need counsel to make their case. An estimated 40 percent of unaccompanied minors transferred to Department of Health and Human Services custody are eligible for reprieve from deportation, and research has shown that youth with legal representation are more likely to be allowed to stay.

The Obama administration requested $15 million from Congress for legal representation for minors as part of a broader request for funding to address the border crisis, but it was not approved by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. The Justice Department teamed up with AmeriCorps to send about 100 attorneys and paralegals to represent children and teenagers, and last week announced it had awarded $1.8 million in grants toward the effort. Administration officials have also urged attorneys to provide services pro bono for the minors.

Other states and localities have gotten involved as well. Democratic Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration asked attorneys to give legal representation, and officials in the state will announce on Wednesday further efforts to address the crisis. On the state level in California, lawmakers proposed a bill to fund legal counsel for children and teenagers, and Attorney General Kamala Harris similarly asked law firms to help. New York City will post representatives at a federal immigration court to aid unaccompanied minors.

San Francisco's move toward such a high level of funding, though, is notable. The city has a history of pro-immigrant stances, such as pushing back against federal government programs that asked police to hold undocumented immigrants for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

About 2,100 minors and family units are expected to go without a lawyer at the San Francisco Immigration Court this year, according to an analyst's report for the board of supervisors. The report estimated it would cost about $6.2 million to provide lawyers in every case. Providing attorneys only for undocumented minors currently living in the city would cost about $1.2 million. The current proposal would provide about $1 million per year, for two years, for legal representation.

Supervisor David Campos, who authored the measure and came to the U.S. without authorization at 14, said the move was inspired in part by testimony from children and teenagers who fled violence in their native countries.

"These young people's courage moved many of my colleagues and I to tears," he said in a statement on Tuesday. "I hope that together, we will inspire other local governments to take compassionate action -- and that President Obama will stop these rapid-fire deportation proceedings which are putting these young people at risk."

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