Photo Credits: ANDREA GONZALEZ / AGGIE
County supervisors voted against setting aside $50,000 in general funds to hire new immigration attorney for a year
On April 23, Yolo County officials declined to pass a resolution to hire an attorney for the purpose of defending immigrants facing deportation but left room open for future consideration in their upcoming June budget discussions.
The plan, put forward by supervisors Don Saylor and Jim Provenza, would have added $50,000 dollars to the existing $100,000 earmarked by the county for legal aid to immigrants, according to the county officials. The funds would have been used to hire either an outside attorney or dedicated public defender — who would assist in deportation cases — for one year. To pass, four of the five council members needed to approve the resolution during the April 23 Board of Supervisors meeting.
During the meeting, Tracie Olson, a public defender from the Yolo County office, voiced support for the proposal. She spoke at length about the some of the challenges immigrants face in the current national political climate.
“Today what we have is a system where immigrants can be arrested, can be brought into jail and they can be detained for long periods of time,” Olson said. “And we all know that — as of late — the federal system has implemented stepped-up policies aimed at its emission of deportation.”
Olson said that immigrants caught up in today’s immigration courts are often denied proper legal representation and that language and financial barriers often put these defendants at a disadvantage.
“They are crushed by evidence that they can rebut but they don’t know how, and they have no assistance because they’re not entitled in the federal system today to the assistance of legal counsel if they’re too poor,” Olson said.
The budget resolution, according to Olson, would have allowed the Yolo County office to assist detainees as they move through the local system to the end of their case in federal immigration courts. Answering a question from Provenza, Olson said that office is currently unable to represent its clients once their cases were transferred from states to federal courts. In a response to a question from Supervisor Gary Sandy, Olson estimated that the resolution would allow her office to handle 30 to 50 of these cases per year.
When Provenza asked about the detainees’ chances of staying in the country without representation in federal courts, Olson stated they were “dismal.”
Supervisor Duane Chamberlain, however, disagreed with Olson’s characterization of the immigration legal system. He cited some of the legal difficulties immigrants from Mexico whom he employed at his farm had faced in the past, stating that he was able to “get it straightened out” by working directly with immigration officials.
Chamberlain voiced his opposition to the proposal, citing budgetary concerns.
“I’m not going to vote to throw another $50,000 at this,” Chamberlain said. “We’ve got enough budget problems already. You’ve got 100,000 [dollars] to play with.”
Supervisor Oscar Villegas also expressed skepticism that engaging in the current federal immigration system was the best use of the additional county funds.
“I don’t believe that we are equipped to deal with what could become a massive caseload in light of what the federal government is currently doing,” Villegas said. “Yolo County is in no position to be able to withstand the amount of resources potentially being placed in the illegal immigration that are currently pending before our court systems.”
Sandy also came out against the proposal at the current time, saying that he felt federal immigration issues were outside the purview of the county’s responsibilities. He stated would like to see more data and information before he made a decision on the matter.
“I appreciate this proposal very much, but at the moment, it is not sufficiently grounded to move forward,” Sandy said. “We’re dealing with absence of real numbers here, real impacts that I could evaluate and measure in the system, and instead we have to rely on anecdotal evidence to provide backing for this.”
With the majority of the board expressing either disapproval or the desire for further research to back the proposal, Provenza agreed to withdraw his motion to pass the resolution until the council’s June 11 budget hearing.
Written by: Tim Lalonde — firstname.lastname@example.org