SAN DIEGO (TND) — San Diego County launched a $5 million pilot program this week giving anyone held at the county's federal immigration detention facility, including illegal migrants, the ability to request free legal help.
The program is the first example of a county along the southern border with Mexico using taxpayer dollars to fund such a program, according to the Associated Press.
There are over 50 jurisdictions across 21 states funding similar pro-bono programs for immigrants facing deportation, the nonprofit Vera Institute of Justice claims.
Immigrants facing deportation have the right to hire an attorney, but they are not offered free government-appointed legal counsel like American citizens receive. As a result, many individuals go unrepresented in immigration courts.
Nationally, 37% of immigrants facing deportation proceedings obtain legal representation, according to a 2016 study by the American Immigration Council. In San Diego, approximately 17% of immigration detainees had obtained legal representation, the Associated Press reported in 2021, when San Diego's public defenders program was first approved.
The money for the program was approved by a vote of 3-2 by the county’s Board of Supervisors, according to the Associated Press.
One of the dissenting voices, Supervisor Jim Desmond, said he wished the county had enough money to help with the program, but noted, “this is a federal matter, and we should be communicating with them for more support."
Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer had an entirely different perspective on the program. She acknowledged the board would be prepared to pay more for the public defender’s program if necessary, according to BorderReport.com.
“We have a commitment at the board and from my colleagues, we’re going to be funding the program at full capacity,” said Lawson-Remer. “If the need is greater than that, we’re going to be there.”
The National Desk reached out to San Diego County for comment, but did not immediately receive a response.