During the Fiscal Year (FY) 2015-2016 Budget Hearing, the Board of Supervisors allocated $405,000 from the General Fund on a one-time basis to provide immigration legal services to unaccompanied minors and families with children residing in Santa Clara County. This funding was also included in the FY 2016-2017 and FY 2017-2018 Adopted Budgets.
This level of funding is anticipated to serve 172 children and families. The funding would support four attorneys housed at five different agencies and the screening, intake and coordination offered by the Bar Association of San Francisco at the San Francisco Immigration Court. For most of the participating agencies, the County funding matches other funds the agencies are receiving from the State or foundations.
The Board of Supervisors on September 29, 2015 approved the initial agreements with the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County, the Katherine and George Alexander Community Law Center at Santa Clara University, the Step Forward Foundation, Community Legal Services of East Palo Alto, and the Bar Association of San Francisco relating to providing legal services (including intake, follow-up, referral, case tracking and coordination, representation, and removal defense) in immigration cases and proceedings involving unaccompanied minors and families with children, in a total amount not to exceed $405,000 for the six agreements for the period October 1, 2015 through September 30, 2016.
During the FY 2016-2017 Budget Hearing, the Board again allocated $405,000 from the General Fund on a one-time basis to amend the existing agreements to provide immigration legal services to unaccompanied minors and families with children residing in Santa Clara County. With the budget action, the Board of Supervisors delegated authority to the County Executive to negotiate the amendments with the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, Community Legal Services of East Palo Alto, the Katherine and George Alexander Community Law Center at Santa Clara University, the Step Forward Foundation, and the Bar Association of San Francisco, which were presented to the Board and approved.
REASONS FOR RECOMMENDATION
When the concern for the high numbers of unaccompanied immigrant minors entering the U.S. came to the attention of the Board of Supervisors in August 2014, the initial thinking was that housing and support services for these children would be the priority. However, with time, it became clear that legal services to assist minors in their immigration matters had become the highest priority. Based on a report released by Child Trends on the migration of children into the United States, children make up the largest proportion of refugees entering the U.S., which, in 2015, reached 51% of all refugees. Fleeing from violence, poverty, and war are the main reasons for children seeking refuge in the United States.
A collaborative effort between the County and community-based providers determined that a group response would be designed to include the core agencies that are each identified as leads in the various forms of immigration relief. Furthermore, the collaborative explored the models used by other jurisdictions and learned that the Bar Association of San Francisco (BASF) is stationed at the Immigration Court in San Francisco and poised to conduct screening and intakes for all unrepresented children and adults who appear in court through the temporary Attorney of the Day program. Upon screening, BASF can then identify the likely immigration relief for which the child is eligible and can directly refer the child to the Santa Clara County agency serving as the lead for that type of immigration relief. That agency would take responsibility for the client at that point and ensure that all aspects of the immigration case are managed. This avoids the challenge of clients calling multiple agencies only to be told that they are full and unable to accept new cases.
Although some members of the collaborative have received funding from Santa Clara County, the State, or foundations, all agencies have a significant need for additional funding in order to adequately serve the community need.
The recommended action will have a positive impact on children and youth.
The recommended action will have no/neutral impact on seniors.
The recommended action will have no/neutral sustainability implications.
In 2014, more than 57,000 Central American women and children crossed the southern border into the United States. By comparison, in prior years, fewer than 10,000 refugees crossed the border. This surge of children has resulted in an increasingly overburdened immigration court system, with children of all ages appearing in the immigration courts with no legal representation.
According to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, in 2014, 160 unaccompanied minors were released in Santa Clara County to a sponsor, who is often a relative or family friend, and occasionally a parent. If fleeing abuse or neglect by a parent, these children may be eligible for a form of immigration relief known as Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). This relief requires a state court—such as a Family Court, Dependency Court, Juvenile Justice Court, or Probate Court—to issue a custody order and findings related to the abuse and neglect the child experienced by one or both parents in their home country. Once the court makes the findings, the child must then petition United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. Concurrently, the child will require representation in the immigration proceedings held in the federal immigration court located in San Francisco in order to request the removal action be dismissed and that they receive an adjustment of status to become a lawful permanent resident.
Although thousands of children arriving in the United States are unaccompanied, several thousand new arrivals are also adults with children, frequently mothers and children. Similarly, those parents and children are facing the same accelerated removal proceedings in Immigration Court, and those children are also frequently eligible for a form of immigration relief based on their experiences in their home country. Often, these cases present in a more complicated fashion, as legal representation is needed for both the parent and children. In addition, the children on the family dockets are generally younger than those on the unaccompanied minors’ docket. Further, many unaccompanied children as well as adults with children are eligible for other immigration remedies, such as asylum, T-Visas and U-Visas.
CONSEQUENCES OF NEGATIVE ACTION
Failure to approve the recommended action would result in these children and families forgoing representation in their immigration legal matters.
STEPS FOLLOWING APPROVAL
The Clerk of the Board of Supervisors will notify John P. Mills, Deputy County Executive, and Maria Love, Director of the Office of Immigrant Relations, when the President of the Board of Supervisors signs the amended agreements.