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San Francisco Braces For Crackdown Over Immigration Policies


During the presidential campaign, President-elect Donald Trump promised to cut federal funding to so-called sanctuary cities. These are municipalities that have pledged to protect their residents who may have entered this country illegally. Many of those cities have since doubled down on that promise. San Francisco's Mayor Ed Lee has proposed using public funds to provide legal services for immigrants facing deportation. Here's NPR's Richard Gonzales.

RICHARD GONZALES, BYLINE: Meet 30-year-old Jesus Ruiz. His parents brought him to this country from Mexico in 1990, when he was 4 years old. Several years ago, Ruiz tried to legalize his status, but he got bad legal advice, applied for asylum, was rejected and wound up deported to a homeland he didn't know.

JESUS RUIZ: It was in Mexico where I felt like an immigrant. I did not feel like an immigrant in America.

GONZALES: So he decided to rejoin his family in Northern California and illegally cross the border. A few years passed, then, one day, he was pulled over by the police for a broken taillight. Long story short - ICE detained him and tried to deport him again. But this time, he had found a better lawyer who had helped him apply for a program that allows young people brought here as children to get a work permit.

RUIZ: And that's why I'm here today talking to you, because that made the difference.

FRANCISCO UGARTE: Detainees are seven times more likely to win their cases with an attorney than if they fight their case on their own against a very seasoned, very sophisticated government attorney in an area of the law that is incredibly complicated.

GONZALES: Francisco Ugarte is an immigration specialist for the San Francisco Public Defender's Office. Last week, Mayor Ed Lee proposed spending $3 million to fund private attorneys to represent immigrants who can't afford to hire a lawyer. The San Francisco proposal is still in its early stages. That idea is based on a New York City program that provides public defenders to represent immigrants in deportation hearings. Both programs have their critics.

JESSICA VAUGHAN: It's not a good idea.

GONZALES: Jessica Vaughan is a spokeswoman for the D.C.-based Center for Immigration Studies, a group advocating immigration limits.

VAUGHAN: If public funds are made available for representation in immigration court, cases of people who stand very little chance of being allowed to stay are going to get their legal bills covered by the taxpayers.

GONZALES: The idea of providing immigrants with free lawyers comes as immigration advocates anticipate that the new Trump administration will ratchet up deportations, says public defender Francisco Ugarte.

UGARTE: And so the only way we can stop that or slow it down is to fight every single case and make it incredibly challenging for this administration to engage in mass deportation.

GONZALES: In Sacramento, lawmakers are considering a plan to provide legal services to immigrants throughout the state. Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.