OAKLAND — Amid a volatile, highly charged national debate and some sudden federal action involving immigration policy, the city, county and community are putting their money where their mouth by funding legal assistance for those threatened with deportations.
The Oakland City Council unanimously endorsed Vice Mayor Annie Campbell-Washington’s proposal to dedicate funding to a rapid response network for “families facing the immediate threat of separation due to deportation.”
In addition to $150,000 for this fiscal year and $150,000 more for next year that the council approved, the San Francisco Foundation pledged matching funds of up to $750,000, and Alameda County subsequently allocated another $750,000.
The funds will support efforts of a coalition that includes Centro Legal de la Raza, the county’s office of the public defender, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, Causa Justa and Catholic Charities of the East Bay.
“This is urgent,” Campbell-Washington said at the Jan. 31 council meeting, in opening discussion of her proposal.
“It is shocking and disheartening how fast we have gotten to the worst-case scenario,” she said.
Signed within a week of Donald Trump’s inauguration as president, a new executive order lists seven categories of people federal immigration employees should deport, from convicted criminals and those who have already been ordered to leave the country to those facing criminal charges to those an immigration officer deems “a risk to public safety or national security.”
With the exception of two who questioned the city’s relative commitment to its African-American community, support for the allocation was enthusiastic among public speakers on the item, who included former Mayor Jean Quan.
After praising the City Council and mayor’s office for leadership and “being one of the first governments in the country to stand up and support keeping communities together,” Eleni Wolfe-Roubatis, immigration director at Centro Legal de la Raza, described the urgency Quan and Campbell-Washington both cited.
“Since the executive orders have been put into place, we have seen even more of an outpouring of community need. A young girl who came to see us yesterday — and we were able to give her an attorney and connect her to a community responder — because her father, who has lived in the United States for 25 years, so immigration came to the door looking for him, and they cited the new executive orders on increased detention as the reason that they were there. We were able to provide her with an attorney with a support network because of the beginning of this funding.”
Without sustained funding, she said, it would not be possible to continue that kind of response.
A 2014 study by Stanford Law School’s Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, cited by Campbell-Washington in a letter to her colleagues advocating for her proposal, found that 65 percent of those deported had been gainfully employed, that more than three-quarters of them were separated from family and approximately half from their children in the process.
Those family members subject to deportation often were the primary breadwinners for the family, and the loss of that income pushed their loved ones closer to poverty and homelessness, the report found. That results in higher costs for city and county social assistance programs.
Only 11 percent of those without legal representation were able to successfully challenge deportation efforts, whereas those who had nonprofit representation succeeded 83 percent of the time.