SACRAMENTO–Today, Governor Brown announced his revised state budget proposal, which included an additional $15 million for legal services for immigrants, including deportation defense. Although the details of how this money will be used have not yet been unveiled, advocates are hopeful it will help ensure more California families remain together. Studies show that having effective legal representation can multiply immigrants’ chances of winning their deportation cases and be able to stay in the country.
“Legal counsel in deportation proceedings is the last line of defense to prevent the permanent exile of immigrants that are deeply rooted in our lives and communities,” said Laura Polstein, Immigration Senior Staff Attorney at Centro Legal de la Raza. “We look forward to continuing to work with Governor Brown and the Legislature to ensure California’s investment in due process for people navigating our impossibly complicated and burdensome deportation system.”
Currently, the federal government forces immigrants fighting their deportation to make their case before a judge alone, without providing them with legal representation, putting their liberty and lives at stake. Immigration proceedings are notoriously complex and require extensive evidence gathering. But while most detained immigrants are unrepresented, they must all go up against a trained federal prosecutor in court. Many people have valid claims to remain in the country, but are deported nonetheless because they cannot afford to hire an attorney who can effectively make their case.
“The federal government has tipped the scales of justice against immigrants fighting to remain in their communities, working, and contributing to our state by forcing them to navigate the legal maze of deportation proceedings alone,” said Maya Ingram, Legislative Advocate with the ACLU of California. “We are heartened to see California take long overdue steps to even the playing field and ensure a just process for everyone.”
Advocates warned effective legal representation in deportation cases is more important now than ever.
“With California’s unique population, we will be ground zero for the devastation unleashed by the new administration’s discriminatory and hateful policies targeting our state’s immigrants,” said Sandy Valenciano, Statewide Coordinator with the California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance. “There are countless Californians already trapped in the country’s deportation machine, and for them, this funding represents and indispensable lifeline.”
Research shows that immigrants are more likely to succeed in fighting their deportation cases when they have a qualified immigration attorney representing them. In New York, for example, preliminary findings from a program similar to the one introduced in California show that immigrants that had legal representation were almost 10 times more likely to win their immigration cases than those that did not. Similarly, a California study found that detained immigrants who have lawyers succeed in their cases more than five times as often.