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Immigrants Facing Deportation Offered Free Legal Help in San Francisco

Miguel, being held in a detention center because of a criminal conviction, was stumbling through a deportation hearing.

He didn't speak English well, he didn't have a lawyer, and the prosecutor wanted him deported immediately. The judge was threatening, too, because Miguel had not completed some paperwork.

"What can I do?" said Miguel, a legal resident who lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for almost a decade. "I don't know how to read. I don't know how to write. I couldn't fill it out."

The case is typical and repeated virtually every day throughout the United States, where nearly 40 percent of the immigrants facing deportation do not have legal assistance because they cannot afford it. They basically have no access to justice, except in a few cities that have set up special programs for them.

San Francisco and More

San Francisco is one of three government agencies that provide public defenders in deportation hearings. It is a new program, like those in New York City and Alameda County.

Other cities, including Los Angeles, Chicago, and Austin, have devoted funds to help the immigrants. Nonprofits and some law firms offer pro bono services as well.

Because immigration cases are not criminal proceedings, however, indigents have no right to appointed counsel. And with Trump Administration stepping up deportation, it is a tough time to be an immigrant in the United States.

"The government brings up everything it can," said Raha Jorjani, an Alameda County public defender who now represents Miguel. "It's an absolutely bewildering process. We're talking about some of the most complicated laws in the nation."

The Trump Era

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is Trump's chief general in the fight against immigrants. In addition to the travel ban, the Mexico wall and other anti-immigrant policies, Sessions has announced tougher prosecution and deportation measures.

"For those that continue to seek improper and illegal entry into this country, be forewarned: This is a new era," he said. "This is the Trump era."

According to reports, immigration arrests have risen 38 percent this year and the White House wants $2.7 billion for immigration enforcement and border security. Sessions has also threatened to withhold funds from sanctuary cities that do not cooperate with federal enforcement.

Jorjani, representing Miguel and other deportation detainees, says that they have a better chance with representation.

"But unfortunately, I don't think the system is that fair," she told the Huffington Post.

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