S.F. Requests Millions to Support Immigrants Facing Deportation

The call for funds has united progressives and moderates in City Hall, with Mayor Mark Farell voicing his adamant support.

(Photo: Mike Koozmin)

San Francisco politicians delivered a fiery announcement Thursday morning that they would be advocating for $7 million in state funding, which would go toward universal counsel for the city’s immigrant population who are facing deportation. 

The $7 million will be spread over two years, bringing the total annual amount San Francisco is spending on legal defense services to $11.1 million — a 236 percent increase from the last two-year budget cycle.

Of that, $2.5 million will go toward the San Francisco Immigration Legal Defense Collaborative and the San Francisco Immigrant Legal and Education Network. An additional $1 million will go toward the Public Defender’s Immigration Defense Unit. 

The initial proposal to increase funds was introduced by Supervisors Sandra Fewer and Hillary Ronen — the latter of which used to work as a labor and immigration attorney, and whose husband, Francisco Ugarte, leads the Public Defender’s Immigration Defense Unit. He famously contributed to the defense of Jose Inez Garcia Zarate, the Mexican man accused and acquitted in the death of Kate Steinle. 

During a public comment period at City Hall Thursday, Ugarte called out the “racist administration, who are perpetrating crimes against humanity every single day in the city of San Francisco.”

According to Ugarte, 95 percent of people facing deportation without an attorney do not win their case. The Public Defender’s Office has represented 85 people who could not afford a lawyer, and have been successful in half those cases. 

“What we can do as a team is far greater than what we can do as individual attorneys,” Ugarte said.

Progressives members of the Board of Supervisors have long asked for financial backing for the city’s undocumented immigrants. But what is notable about today’s announcement is Mayor Mark Farrell’s endorsement of the plan, particularly as the Mayor’s Office has not always offered such overwhelming support of funding immigrant defense.

“As the Mayor of San Francisco, I will not back down from fighting against the spiteful and oppressive policies of the federal administration,” Farrell said in a statement Thursday. “San Francisco and the State of California must work together to keep our hardworking families from being heartlessly broken apart by these destructive policies. We will stand up together to protect our residents when they are being attacked.”

Farrell’s commitment to creating a two-year budget for immigration defense secures the funding regardless of who the people elect as mayor in June. 

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