In recent months, thousands of migrants have gathered in Tijuana, hoping for asylum in the United States. Some will be deported before ever stepping foot in the U.S. Others will be detained by U.S. immigration authorities as they wait for their hearings.
But some will be allowed to live in the U.S. while their cases wind through the system. Legal experts say if they stay in California, they’ll be lucky to be there. The state has a cadre of pro bono attorneys eager to help them navigate the complicated asylum process.
In 2017, California lawmakers approved a state budget that included $45 million in funding for immigrant legal services. With that increased funding, the state’s Department of Social Services has contracted dozens of nonprofits to offer legal help to thousands of immigrants every year.
The state money is spread to organizations throughout California. But regional breakdowns show that nonprofits in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area have received the largest chunks of money. These areas may be expensive for migrants, but the data show that having access to legal aid makes a huge difference in asylum cases.
Still California’s high cost of living continues to push families out of the very places offering the most help.
“A lot of our immigrant community are finding themselves having to move outside of Los Angeles so that they can afford to live,” said Patricia Ortiz, a lawyer with the Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project.
“But once they’re there, there is not quite the same amount of resources or support that they would have here,” she said.
By David Wagner for N P R
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