On April 27 at a press conference at City Hall, Mayor Ed Lee honored BASF and the 12 other organizations in the San Francisco Immigrant Legal Defense Collaborative (SFILDC) for providing legal representation to unaccompanied children and families fleeing violence in Central America. The mayor also renewed SFILDC’s funding until 2018, thereby protecting access to counsel for children in San Francisco and continuing SFILDC’s innovative work.
At the press conference, Dolores Street Community Services (DSCS) Staff Attorney Judah Lakin, one of the SFILDC partners, told the story of two of these children, Walter and William. These two boys grew up in Guatemala with their grandparents, while their parents worked in the U.S. to support them. Over the years, their hometown became overrun by gangs, and the boys were unable to continue with school and avoid gang efforts to recruit them. They finally fled for the U.S. on their own. Upon arriving at the border, Walter and William were ordered to appear before an immigration judge. Fortunately, they re-settled in San Francisco where they were able to obtain a free attorney through DSCS to help them represent themselves. They have now been granted asylum and are continuing their education.
The SFILDC was created in response to the unprecedented number of children coming to the U.S. seeking protection. Rather than recognizing this exodus as a humanitarian crisis, the Obama Administration has re-sponded by calling these cases an “enforcement priority.” There is no right to counsel in immigration court because immigration proceedings are considered civil in nature, despite their dire consequences and complex rules.
Since July 2014, over 11,000 children and parents have been put in removal proceedings before the San Francisco Immigration Court, making Northern California a central home for these refugees in the United States. Only half have counsel, yet representation makes a 14-fold difference in leading to a positive outcome.
BASF has been a leader and integral partner in the SFILDC. BASF’s Lawyer Referral and Information Service hosts the SFILDC’s Legal Director and Immigration Case Coordinator, who oversee the full-scope representation provided to over 450 San Francisco residents by ten direct service organizations. They also administer a specialized volunteer Attorney of the Day Program for the dockets of unaccompanied children and families appearing before the San Francisco Immigration Court. Since July 2014, volunteer attorneys have assisted at over 677 hearings to ensure that children do not appear alone. BASF is also an intake and referral hub connecting these children and families with counsel throughout Northern California.
SFILDC welcomes pro bono assistance to represent these children, and will provide legal support and mentorship. Please contact SFILDC Legal Director, Avantika Shastri, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.sfildc.org and www.sfbar.org/sfildc.