Nonprofits scramble to get legal aid to immigrants

County supervisors plan to boost funds amid ICE raids

Santa Clara County officials are preparing another round of grant funding to aid undocumented immigrants facing the threat of deportation amid heightened immigration enforcement activity in the Bay Area.

In June, Santa Clara County Supervisors committed $3.5 million to more than a dozen nonprofits in order to increase legal aid available to the county's immigrant community. The decision was largely a response to rhetoric from President Donald Trump -- and later Trump's executive orders -- shifting priorities toward heavy-handed immigration enforcement.

Since then, there have been multiple well-publicized sweeps by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) targeting the Bay Area as recently as last month. ICE released a statement on Feb. 27 touting the agency's arrests of more than 150 people in the Bay Area, about half of whom had criminal convictions, in a week-long effort targeting so-called sanctuary jurisdictions.

In an effort to react quickly to what they saw as a threat to its constituents, county supervisors agreed to distribute the $3.5 million to 18 nonprofits in the county that provide a broad range of services, including "Know Your Rights" education and legal defense during deportation proceedings.

County administrators say the need for legal representation still far exceeds the demand, and they will return to the Board of Supervisors with recommendations this month to renew funding through the 2018-19 fiscal year. Although specific details are still to come, the funding will likely shift away from education initiatives and focus more on legal defense.

Among the nonprofits helping North County residents is Community Legal Services of East Palo Alto (CLSEPA), which received $320,000 in county grant funds this year and recently opened up a new office on Fairchild Drive in Mountain View. Reports from the county say that as of December, the nonprofit provided "direct representation" to 86 unaccompanied minors and families with children who were in expedited deportation proceedings in the San Francisco Immigration Court since June. All of them were Latino, with many from Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

"Many of these children and families have fled violence and abuse in Central America," according to the staff report.

ICE activity has ramped up since fall, with quite a few arrests in San Jose as well as other cities in Santa Clara County, according Misha Seay, a senior immigration attorney for CLSEPA. Although the name suggests otherwise, she said the organization opened the Mountain View office in order to expand its outreach to North County residents, and wants to let the immigrant community know that legal help is available. Unlike other court proceedings, immigration courts are not required to provide a legal defense to the defendant.

"As you can imagine, that creates a huge gap in services and a big need for the immigrant population who can't afford private counsel on their own," she said.

In August, Santa Clara County launched the Rapid Response Network, which calls on community members to alert immigration advocacy groups whenever ICE is suspected of detaining someone in the community. Once an arrest is confirmed, the network calls on attorneys like the ones at CLSEPA to offer legal representation to whoever was picked up.

"That's the part we're heavily involved in, and it's actually been occurring quite frequently," Seay said. "We'll go to ICE and meet with the (detainee) before they get transported to the detention center."

One of the major hurdles for CLSEPA and similar advocacy groups is that the immigration courts were already clogged up before Trump took office, and it's only gotten worse since then. In a report to the county, CLSEPA staffers noted that the backlog has gotten so bad that initial hearings for unaccompanied children at the San Francisco Immigration Court are being scheduled for 2021, and hearings for asylum applicants are being pushed out between two and five years, depending on the judge.

"These backlogs create uncertainty and anxiety for clients, who have to wait years for their cases to be resolved," according to the report. "This backlog also places pressure on our immigration program; because cases are not closing, it limits the number of new cases that we can initiate."

Delegating the immigrant support to nonprofits using taxpayer dollars hasn't been without its own set of problems. At a Finance and Government Operations Committee meeting last week, County Supervisor Cindy Chavez said that the partnership comes with a higher level of accountability that, frankly, none of the nonprofit partners seems to want.

At the same time, some of the nonprofits in the latest reports aren't meeting the goals or spending the money allocated by the county, which Chavez worried is locking up money that could be better spent elsewhere.

"I want to make sure we can take some of the remaining money that's not being spent and redirect it, because we are in a crisis," she said. "And I don't think it's okay to leave money that's not really being drawn down while we have individuals who are literally in crisis right now and we can help."

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53 people like this
Posted by Call me a cynic
a resident of Jackson Park
on Mar 19, 2018 at 1:48 pm

"County Supervisor Cindy Chavez said that the partnership comes with a higher level of accountability that, frankly, none of the nonprofit partners seems to want."

It makes you wonder who is really benefitting.

100 people like this
Posted by jamesp
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2018 at 2:38 pm

It makes my head spin to see county officials spending taxpayer money on fugitives from justice. Shouldn't we be able to vote on this?

70 people like this
Posted by @jamesp
a resident of Rex Manor
on Mar 19, 2018 at 3:08 pm

WE may not be able to vote on these choices the council is making, but we can definitely make our votes count when they're up for re-election!

80 people like this
Posted by jamesp
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2018 at 3:59 pm

Los Alamitos may give us hope. There are many in this state who are tired of the law breaking and corruption.

127 people like this
Posted by swissik
a resident of another community
on Mar 19, 2018 at 4:32 pm

When the perfume of taxpayer funds fills the air, the non-profits proliferate, grow like mushrooms after the rain. I said it before, there are a lot of people making a nice living off of the misery of others. Of course the non-profits don't like accountability because most of the money goes toward administration NOT the cause.
Cindy Chavez is simply another "public servant" who needs to be removed, let her get a job where her performance can be measured.

76 people like this
Posted by John
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Mar 19, 2018 at 7:52 pm

John is a registered user.

It is not the "immigrant community" but the "illegal immigrant community" that these local politicians are trying to aide and abet. They should have limited the help to DACA immigrants who at least have an argument for staying.

112 people like this
Posted by mvresident2003
a resident of Monta Loma
on Mar 19, 2018 at 10:38 pm

mvresident2003 is a registered user.

I didn't know what Los Alamitos was, just looked it up , very interesting. Finally, people are starting to stand up and push back, long overdue but very glad to see it happening.

12 people like this
Posted by BillyJoe
a resident of North Bayshore
on Mar 21, 2018 at 4:40 pm

BillyJoe is a registered user.

The title of this article is not should read:

"Nonprofits scramble to get legal aid to illegal aliens"

Words still have meanings and it would be nice if this filthy rag of a paper used the correct ones.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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