Supervisor Lawson-Remer proposes using taxpayer dollars to fund immigrant legal defense program

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) – San Diego County Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer introduced a plan Tuesday intended to make San Diego the first southern border county in the United States with a program to provide legal representation for immigrants facing removal proceedings.

Lawson-Remer’s office claims the proposed initiative — the Immigrant Rights Legal Defense Program – – is intended to help address the current backlog in immigration courts, while also saving taxpayer dollars and supporting the local economy.

As proposed, the program would use taxpayer dollars to fund attorneys to represent detained immigrants in San Diego County. It would start as a $5 million one-year pilot project, and eventually grow to be a permanent resource housed in the San Diego County Office of the Public Defender and work in partnership with regional immigrant defense agencies and nonprofits.

“Our justice system should be based on facts and law, not access to wealth and resources,” said Lawson-Remer, who is also an attorney.

Lawson-Remer said, “Everyone in this nation, whether a citizen or not, has an established right under our constitution to be represented by legal counsel, and this program will help immigrants afford the ability to have a fair day in court.”

“Three of my great-grandparents fled to the U.S. to escape the torture and mass killings of Jews in Europe, and one hundred years later our country is still a beacon of hope for people fleeing persecution,” she continued. “When we keep America’s promise of equal justice for all, we give immigrants dignity, we make the legal system more efficient, and we strengthen our values as Americans.”

Lawson-Remer’s office claims that, without legal advice, individuals can be left to navigate the complexities of immigration law on their own. The lack of appointed counsel means tens of thousands of people each year go unrepresented, including asylum seekers, longtime residents, immigrant parents, spouses of U.S. citizens and children.

Legal fees can be costly and often burdensome on families, Lawson- Remer said. Officials say only 5% of individuals facing deportation won their case without a lawyer, while those with legal representation are more than 10 times more likely to be successful.

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