San Francisco is taking a different approach than many cities to the recent influx of unaccompanied Central American minors — it's opening its doors and lending a hand.
On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors passed a measure that will provide legal services to help the undocumented kids stay in the U.S.
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously approved an ordinance that will provide more than $2 million in funds to pay for legal support for unaccompanied minors and families registered on the San Francisco Immigration Court’s expedited removal docket. The money will come from public funds.
The measure will now go to the desk of San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, who has expressed support for the proposal.
“If another country was expediting the deportation of children who were seeking refuge, our country would be speaking out against that at the United Nations” said city Supervisor David Campos, who authored the proposal. Campos entered the U.S. illegally when he left Guatemala at the age of 14. “San Francisco has always been a place of sanctuary for human rights and immigrants and this is a human rights issue, these are kids escaping persecution.”
The juvenile caseload in San Francisco’s immigration court has increased by 183 percent, or 541 cases, over the past two years, according to the Board of Supervisors. Community groups that have offered free or low-cost legal services to immigrant families have been overwhelmed.
“It’s very difficult to have to turn people away and place them on a waiting list when they desperately need help right now,” said Cecilia Candia, an immigration attorney at La Raza Centro Legal, a community group in San Francisco that provides legal services to low income people.
“We’re very excited that this is going to expand legal capacity and help more people,” Candia said.
Many child migrants and their families arrive with little to no money in the U.S.
"The legal help would be a great because I don't speak English and it's difficult to find a job that will pay me enough so I’m able to afford a lawyer," said Sarahi Dormes, who fled Honduras with her family and arrived in San Francisco last June.
Statiscally, nearly 50 percent of children with legal representation are granted legal status in the United States. However, for juveniles without an attorney the records show that only one out of ten were allowed to stay in the U.S., according to the Transnational Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.
The New York City council announced a similar effort on Tuesday that uses a combination of both public and private funds to provide legal services to child migrants.