Santa Ana Wants to Create Legal Defense Fund for Immigration Detainees Facing Deportation

SANTA ANA — Immigration detainees facing deportation have no right to government-appointed counsel, and Orange County lacks a nonprofit or attorney devoted exclusively to providing legal defense for people in that position, local law professors say.

And unlike Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Chicago, no city in Orange County has started an immigration legal defense fund. On Tuesday, May 16, Santa Ana took a leap to become the first.

The city council on a 4-2 vote, with council members Jose Solorio and Juan Villegas dissenting and Mayor Miguel Pulido absent, directed staff to pursue providing money for a legal defense fund, partnering with immigrant defenders and legal service providers, establishing a central location for referral services, establishing a joint powers authority and seeking a support grant.

“Santa Ana would be the first city in O.C. to provide public funds for immigrant legal defense,” said Sameer Ashar, a clinical professor of law at UC Irvine School of Law. “Santa Ana as a city has been taking steps that really no other entity in the county has been courageous enough to take.”

Orange County’s second-largest city in December became the first in the county to adopt a sanctuary ordinance, and phased out its U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement contract at Santa Ana Jail to the point that the federal agency terminated its detention agreement.

In February, the council directed staff to collaborate with legal service providers and launch a coordinated imitative to provide access to legal representation to Santa Ana residents at risk of removal who cannot afford an attorney.

Pursuing a legal defense fund “is certainly a natural outgrowth of other steps the city has taken,” said Jennifer Koh, a law professor at the Western State College of Law, which has helped Santa Ana get to this stage.

By Jessica Kwong for the Orange County Register
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