11 Communities Unite to Provide Public Defense to Immigrants Facing Deportation

Posted on November 15, 2017

Today’s Buzz is about the Vera Institute of Justice’s Safety and Fairness for Everyone (SAFE) Cities Network, an initiative to provide public defense to immigrants facing deportation.

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On October 17, 2017, the Santa Ana City Council approved a Memorandum of Understanding with the Vera Institute of Justice to join their Safety and Fairness for Everyone (SAFE) Cities Network.  The Vera Institute of Justice is an independent, non-profit national research and policy organization whose goal is to “[work] with governments to build and improve justice systems that ensure fairness, promote safety, and strengthen communities.”  As part of the SAFE Cities Network, the City of Santa Ana was awarded $100,000 to provide immigration legal defense services in Santa Ana and surrounding Orange County.


At the July 5, 2017 meeting, the Santa Ana City Council appropriated $65,000 in one-time funds to be used as a legal defense fund to provide immigration legal defense services to Santa Ana residents.  This decision followed prior action by the City Council on February 21, 2017 and on May 16, 2017 to explore and further pursue five options relating to immigration legal defense initiatives:

  • Partner with established providers of legal services;
  • Establish a joint powers authority;
  • Establish a central location for referral of services;
  • Provide funding for a legal defense fund; and
  • Pursue the Vera Institute of Justice’s SAFE Cities Network funding opportunity.

These options were developed as a result of a meeting hosted by our amazing City Attorney on March 8, 2017 with legal service providers, community stakeholders, and City staff, as well as from subsequent information gathering.
In April 2017, Vera released a Request for Letters of Interest, an invitation to local leaders to join Vera’s SAFE Cities Network.  The SAFE Cities Network is an initiative that provides funding for trained legal service providers (LSPs) to represent immigrants facing deportation, or removal, proceedings.  In June 2017, the City was notified by Vera that the City of Santa Ana was selected to join the SAFE Cities Network.  This partnership includes a one-time catalyst grant from Vera to support the City’s immigration legal defense efforts.  Specifically, the City’s participation in the SAFE Cities Network includes the following:

  • In addition to the $65,000 in City funds appropriated by the City Council, Vera will designate $100,000 in one-time funds for detained removal defense, where the universal representation model is used.  Universal representation refers to a removal defense model that does not prohibit services to any categories of immigrants in removal proceedings other than those based on income requirements.  The City’s funds will be used to provide removal defense to Santa Ana residents.  While Vera’s funds will prioritize Santa Ana residents, these funds could also be used to support removal defense for Orange County residents if additional capacity exists to do so.
  • Vera will provide in-kind support, including technical assistance in identifying and training legal service providers, providing opportunities to share best practices with other jurisdictions, providing data collection and research support, and more.
  • Vera will assist the City with developing a public communications strategy.

Immediately following the City Council’s appropriation of $65,000 for a legal defense fund on July 5, 2017, City staff sought the assistance of Vera to conduct a Request for Proposals (RFP) process to select a legal service provider (LSP) to provide immigration legal defense services.  An RFP was distributed to legal service providers on August 21, 2017 and proposals were accepted through September 11, 2017.  The City received two proposals: one from Immigrant Defenders Law Center and one from the Public Law Center.  The selection process consisted of a comprehensive review of submitted proposals by representatives from the City and Vera.  Below is the ranking of the two proposals:

Immigrant Defenders Law Center 1
Public Law Center 2

On September 21, 2017, the City and Vera selected Immigrant Defenders Law Center as the City’s legal service provider.  Based out of Los Angeles, CA, Immigrant Defenders Law Center currently provides removal defense services in Los Angeles.  The Immigrant Defenders Law Center was selected because of their extensive experience in providing immigration legal defense using the universal representation model.  In addition, Immigrant Defenders Law Center has an expansive network of attorneys to support their efforts to expand their services to Santa Ana and Orange County.  As part of their proposed program, Immigrant Defenders Law Center will open a location in Santa Ana, where they will be able to serve Santa Ana residents and receive referrals.  Based on their proposal that includes the combined $165,000 in funds, Immigrant Defenders Law Center anticipates to serve between 35 to 40 clients; their estimated case cost is between $4,125 and $4,714.
Although the Public Law Center is located in Santa Ana, their proposal did not identify any prior experience with providing immigration legal defense services under the universal representation model.  Additionally, their proposal provided limited details on their plan to implement their program.



As a component of Vera’s technical assistance offered to the SAFE Cities Network jurisdictions, a kick-off convening with City and County officials, as well as legal service providers, to officially launch the SAFE Cities Network was held this past Thursday, November 9, 2017 in Columbus, OH.  The launch of the SAFE Cities Network coincided with the release of a new study from Vera, an evaluation of the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP), showing that providing universal public defense dramatically increases the likelihood of indigent immigrants prevailing and returning to their families, jobs and communities.  Providing legal representation to those facing deportation maintains trust in governmental institutions and supports public safety for the entire community.  The evaluation of NYIFUP, which pioneered universal representation for detained indigent immigrants in deportation proceedings, showed a successful outcome rate of 48 percent, a 1,100 percent increase from the pre-NYIFUP 4 percent success rate for cases that did not have attorneys at the Varick Street Immigration Court in New York City.
Under the new SAFE Cities Network, 11 jurisdictions are providing funding for trained legal service providers to represent immigrants facing deportation proceedings supplemented by a catalyst grant administered by Vera.  Vera will provide technical expertise and support, including assistance in identifying and training legal service providers, providing opportunities to share best practices with other jurisdictions, and providing data collection and analyses for the purpose of evaluating the network’s impact.
The SAFE Cities Network includes the following jurisdictions:

  • Atlanta, GA
  • Austin, TX
  • Baltimore, MD
  • Chicago, IL
  • Columbus, OH
  • Dane County, WI
  • Oakland/Alameda County, CA
  • Prince George’s County, MD
  • Sacramento, CA
  • San Antonio, TX
  • Santa Ana, CA

This was my first time in Columbus–and I loved it!  It was cold, but the city was awesome. Vera hosted an engaging and inspiring convening–or conference–and I appreciated being able to spend a couple of days with local government officials and legal service providers who are passionate about social justice.
I couldn’t leave Columbus without taking a City Hall Selfie.

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