The fund helps immigrants who are facing potential deportation secure an attorney that would otherwise be difficult to afford. Santa Ana is the only Orange County city to provide such a service.
“[Santa Ana provides] legal representation for any resident who’s facing deportation—that could be an undocumented immigrant or legal residence status already,” city spokesperson Paul Eakins told The Epoch Times.
The city previously allocated $200,000 annually for the service, but increased it to $300,000 this year.
“We’re a city with a large immigrant population, and we have undocumented immigrants who live here as well, so it was a priority for the council to increase the funding,” Eakins said.
The city began the fund in October 2017, to provide immigrants with access to government-funded counsel. At that time, Santa Ana partnered with the Vera Institute of Justice and the Immigrant Defenders Law Center (ImmDef) to provide legal services for non-U.S. citizens.
ImmDef provided “full-scope removal defense assistance to individuals, regardless of the immigration relief available,” according to the city’s website.
“Whereas traditional legal service programs may identify eligibility for representation through screening for viable immigration relief, the universal representation model ensures each client, regardless of potential relief, is given an opportunity to be heard.”
ImmDef reportedly represented at least 44 residents since its inception in 2018, with at least 11 of them being spared deportation.
The Vera Institute of Justice joined the city’s Safety and Fairness for Everyone (SAFE) network in 2017.
SAFE—representing more than 774 clients nationwide—operates in 18 jurisdictions across 11 states, “committing public taxpayer dollars toward legal representation for immigrants in their communities facing deportation,” according to the city’ website.
The city said not providing immigrants with a trained government attorney is a “violation of due process.”
“Yet the complexities of immigration law and the severe consequences at stake make it unjust and unreasonable to expect individuals to represent themselves competently in immigration court,” it said.
The city’s appointed legal representative can represent asylum seekers, longtime legal residents, immigrant parents or spouses of U.S. citizens, and even children.
Data from 2018 showed that 23.7 percent of Santa Ana residents were not U.S. citizens. Figures from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey showed that 153,900 immigrants live in Santa Ana, representing 46 percent of the city’s total population.