Lawyer Referral and Information Service Expands Role in Immigration Collaboratives to Ensure Due Process

By Carole Conn Director of Public Service Programs, LRIS/ADR/Immigration

In the fall of 2014, the City and County of San Francisco stepped up to fund legal representation for immigrants. In an unprecedented move, over two million dollars for two years was appropriated to help provide lawyers to unaccompanied minors and families with children arriving in San Francisco Immigration Court who, also in an unprecedented move, had been placed into expedited deportation proceedings by executive order of the President Obama.

Avantika Shastri, BASF/LRIS Immigration Legal Director and SFILDC Lead Attorney

Avantika Shastri, BASF/LRIS Immigration Legal Director and SFILDC Lead Attorney

By January 2015, the San Francisco Immigrant Legal Defense Collaborative (SFILDC) was born, a consortium of 13 organizations with 10 San Francisco immigration nonprofits including the University of San Francisco Law School Immigration and Deportation Defense Clinic, two technical assistance organizations and The Bar Association of San Francisco’s Lawyer Referral and Information Service (LRIS). With its 30-year old “Attorney of the Day Program” in immigration court, LRIS had the framework in place to coordinate volunteer attorneys to assist unrepresented respondents at the court and provide intake and referral coordination of client cases.

In addition to its immigration case coordinator, LRIS also houses the lead attorney for SFILDC to mentor and guide overall legal strategy to the attorneys in the collaborative.

Two years strong, SFILDC has represented close to 500 individuals, with primarily victorious outcomes in court, and acted as “Attorneys of the Day” for over 350 dockets between March 2015 to November 2016.

LRIS also provides coordination of intake and referral for nonprofits handling representation for unaccompanied minors and families with children in Santa Clara County.

Carlos Pinzon-Hamilton SFILDC Immigration Case Coordinator

Carlos Pinzon-Hamilton SFILDC Immigration Case Coordinator

Fast forward to the fall of 2016, the City and County of San Francisco stepped up again, this time in response to the anti-immigrant pronouncements and mass deportation threats of the president-elect. The mayor allocated $1.2 million to community immigration nonprofits including SFILDC to be immediately distributed from January to June 2017, with $2.4 million for each of the next two fiscal years starting in July 2017. The money will help provide comprehensive services to immigrants, including rapid response to any raids or imminent emergency actions, such as the elimination of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or increased arrest and detention of immigrants.

Like in 2014, with the unaccompanied minors’ crisis, private funders have also put forward money to support legal representation for detained immigrants and have just begun to fund the Northern California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice. With legal representation for the detained being the key difference to garner an estimated 83 percent chance of success in immigration court, as opposed to an 11 percent chance, private funders and government alike have seen the importance of lawyers and the due process they bring to an area of the law second in complexity only to the tax code. A regional collaborative including immigration nonprofits in the East Bay, South Bay and San Francisco is being developed with coordination of the case intake and referral to be housed at LRIS. As a result of these developments, LRIS will expand its role in coordination and legal expertise overall, including for its “Attorney of the Day Program” at the custody dockets at the immigration court.

And more developments are to come with pending state legislation to appropriate funds for legal representation of detained immigrants and other regional efforts underway at the time of this writing, in Alameda and Santa Clara Counties.

Make a difference: become an LRIS Panel member in immigration or volunteer at one of the many nonprofit organizations that need your help (see box). For complete information, visit www.sfbar.org/sfildc.

To join the LRIS Immigration Panel, contact LRIS Membership Coordinator Yvonne Ng at 415-782-9000 x8750 or yng@sfbar.org. LRIS is a State Bar Certified Lawyer Referral Program, model referral service, with a national reputation for its outstanding legal assistance to the public.