Supervisors OK $2.1 million in legal services funding for immigrant youths facing deportation 

San Francisco approved $2.1 million in spending Tuesday on legal services for immigrant youths who fled Central America and face deportation after crossing the border illegally to seek refuge in the United States.

The funding comes as U.S. Customs and Border Protection is apprehending a larger number of undocumented youths entering the country and a so-called rocket docket is in effect fast-tracking these cases through the courts in response to a directive from the Obama administration.

Supervisor David Campos, who himself emigrated to the U.S. from Guatemala at age 14, introduced the legislation to allocate the funding from The City's $58 million budget reserve fund.

"We have heard a lot being said about the crisis that we are facing," Campos said.

That "crisis" was illustrated not only in stories of some of the youth who came to the U.S. to escape violence but also through data in a report by city Budget Analyst Harvey Rose.

"The juvenile caseload in San Francisco's Immigration Court has increased by 183 percent or 541 cases, from 296 cases in FY 2010-11 to 837 cases in FY 2012-13," the report said. "The increase in juvenile cases in the San Francisco Immigration Court reflects the nationwide increase in unaccompanied juveniles apprehended by U.S. Custom and Border Protection."

The report estimated that for this year, there will be 2,128 families or youths who reside in The City and are referred to San Francisco's Immigration Court in need of legal representation. U.S Customs and Border Protection estimates that 90,000 unaccompanied juveniles and 75,427 family units will be apprehended nationwide between October 2013 and September, the report said.

But with the funding approved Tuesday -- of which $1 million would be spent during each of the next two years -- the youths fighting deportation would acquire attorneys to help them try and win asylum.

Children experiencing immigration legal battles spoke at the Board of Supervisors meeting, telling their stories and thanking the board for the investment.

"These young people's courage moved many of my colleagues and I to tears," Campos said in a statement. "I hope that together, we will inspire other local governments to take compassionate action -- and that President [Barack] Obama will stop these rapid-fire deportation proceedings which are putting these young people at risk."

As Rose's report highlighted, youth or families in immigration court do not have a legal right to representation. That means they rely upon organizations that provide the services.

"According to Syracuse University's TRAC Immigration Project, unrepresented immigrant juveniles were ordered deported in nine out of ten cases nationally," the report said. "In contrast, the court allowed the juvenile to remain in the United States in almost half of the cases receiving legal representation."

In prior years, an average of 65 percent of these cases in Immigration Court received legal representation, which decreased to 35 percent last year.

Abigail Trillin, executive director of Legal Services for Children, said that "the accelerated deportation process the administration is forcing on these children has overwhelmed our organization and many others."

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