In the midst of the Trump administration’s threats to undocumented residents, a network consisting of 11 jurisdictions, including Oakland and Alameda County, will provide publicly funded legal representation to anyone facing deportation.
On Thursday, the Vera Institute of Justice launched the Safety and Fairness for Everyone, or SAFE, Cities Network, which will provide legal representation to people facing deportation. According to a press release from the Vera Institute, each jurisdiction in the network was chosen by Vera through a request for proposals process. Each jurisdiction also showed its commitment to the program by investing public dollars, which were then matched by Vera’s catalyst fund.
The 11 jurisdictions will provide funding for trained legal service providers to represent people faced with deportation. Vera will identify and train legal service providers and provide data collection and analyses to evaluate the network’s impact.
Harley Shaiken, chair of UC Berkeley’s Center for Latin American Studies, said the right for someone to go before a judge when they are apprehended is meaningless without a lawyer. He added that access to a lawyer gives immigrants a better chance of gaining refugee status or avoiding deportation.
“This is critical — it provides protection for all residents in both counties,” Shaiken said. “I say ‘protection for everybody’ because if people are fearful of their immigration status, they won’t report crimes, they may jeopardize their own health. … This is giving real meaning to the spirit behind sanctuary cities.”
Campus junior Selena Pérez, who is covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, said she is able to get a social security number, which helps with employment. She added that with DACA, she is barred from deportation for three years and can obtain a state-issued ID and pay taxes.
Pérez said that after Trump’s election, many undocumented people feared losing their jobs, being deported and being unable to travel. She added that DACA already does not benefit all undocumented immigrants. In the era of the Trump administration, Pérez said she feels that all undocumented immigrants should push to be recognized.
Shaiken said SAFE Cities Network will give critical rights to individual immigrants, but he added that it cannot change the overall effect of the federal administration’s approach to immigration policies.
“I definitely think it’s been very hostile,” Pérez said. “Trump’s campaign ran on the ‘build the wall’ aspect, and I think when that materialized for me was when that group came on campus and built a wall. … People were shouting ‘undocumented and unafraid,’ but I was very afraid.”
There are already many organizations in Oakland and Alameda County that provide legal representation for immigrants.
Savannah Kuang is a communications coordinator at the Social Justice Collaborative, a nonprofit organization that provides legal representation for immigrants and low-income individuals. She said nonprofit organizations are necessary because not everyone is able to afford representation.
“I do believe that (SAFE Cities Network) will create a positive impact because we want to ensure that everyone promotes an inclusive society,” Kuang said. “(But) with the Trump administration, there’s a lot more work that has to be done.”