County ramps up funding to defend immigrants

Kevin Forestieri| Mountain View Voice| Link to Article

Supervisors OK $550K to pay for legal defense and ICE raid alerts


The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors agreed to beef up funding for emergency legal representation and deportation defense services for immigrants, following signs of heightened immigration enforcement by federal officials.

Supervisors unanimously agreed at the Sept. 25 board meeting on a nearly five-fold increase in funding for the so-called Rapid Response Network -- from $100,500 to $550,000 -- which provides a raft of support services deployed when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is sighted in the community and detains immigrants suspected of being in the country illegally.

Among those services, the Rapid Response Network has a 24-hour hotline for residents to report ICE encounters or sightings; a "rapid alert" messaging system for advocates to monitor ICE activity and act as recorders; and most importantly, attorneys availabl to provide same-day legal representation for anyone transported to an ICE processing center. All of these services have been provided to date on a shoestring budget, kept afloat only through "redirected" funds and volunteer work, according to a letter by Akemi Flynn, executive director of People Acting in Community Together.

"Our staff has contributed extensive 'volunteer' time during our intense start up phase, and we benefited from training and technical infrastructure from a RRN partner's statewide and national network," he said. "But now we need the funding to sustain a strong rapid response network for our community across Santa Clara County."

From July 1, 2017 to the end of July this year, the network's hotline received more than 3,000 calls, sent out 94 ICE raid alerts and dispatched attorneys for emergency representation 47 times. The biggest spike -- more than half the calls and two-thirds of the raid alerts -- occurred in the early months this year. This was the same period ICE officials were reportedly checking local 7-Eleven stores for the immigration status of employees, and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf publicaly warned residents of imminent ICE raids.

An alert last year followed reports that ICE was conducting a sweep at the Park Vista apartments in Mountain View. Local ICE officials declined to name the location, but confirmed a young man was detained. The family was subsequently provided legal representation.

Luis Angel Reyes Savalza, a removal defense attorney at Pangea Legal Services, thanked the board for "standing with immigrant communities in these difficult times." He said arrests by ICE have been up 40 percent in the last year in the United States, and arrests of immigrants with no criminal convictions have more than doubled. He said the Rapid Response Network's ability to provide legal representation within hours of an arrest makes a big difference when it comes to deportation proceedings.

"The first hours of someone's arrest can mean the different between an immediate deportation or having an opportunity to go in front of a judge," he said. "It can mean the difference between prolonged detention or being released on an ICE bond. It can mean the difference between being transferred to an out of state detention facility or being kept in a local detention facility where we can provide full scope representation."

Along with heightened enforcement, Savalza said ICE has "become accustomed" to using deceitful and coersive tactics to get detainees to waive their rights on the first day of arrest, or sign a deportation order before they are able to see an attorney.

Shouan Riahi, the legal services director at SIREN, thanked the board for the ongoing investment, but said a series of policy decisions by the Trump administration means more funding will be needed to ensure immigrants have access to removal defense attorneys. Along with the attempt to repeal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which is still playing out in court, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is reportedly reviewing whether immigrants facing expedited removal proceedings can seek bond, and weighing whether asylum seekers should be entitled to bond hearings or should remain in detention until a hearing.

ICE officials reported last week that the agency arrested dozens of potential sponsors of undocumented migrant children, after background checks determined a majority of the people who came forward willing to take the children were in the U.S. illegally.

County supervisors took up the item late in an eight-hour meeting and approved the item with little discussion, with Supervisor Cindy Chavez making the motion for the increased funding with a few strings attached. She requested that the county take measures to ensure the nonprofits are able to "absorb the financing" and actually carry out the work being asked, and verify that the the county isn't duplicating funding for the same services.

The Santa Clara County Rapid Response Network was

officially launched last August with the full support of elected officials from both the county and the city of Mountain View. The network relies on a network of several hundred volunteers who are mostly tasked with sending out alerts and keeping an accurate record of what transpires during an ICE sweep -- particularly if ICE officials tread on the constitutional rights of detained immigrants.