A $1 million pilot program designed to provide legal assistance to undocumented immigrants grappling with threats of deportation was fast-tracked through the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, passing unanimously and with vocal community support.
Called Stand Together Contra Costa, the program is the county’s most direct response to the climate of fear many undocumented immigrants say they have been living in since the inauguration of President Donald Trump, who rode a wave of anti-immigrant rhetoric into the White House. The program will provide immigration-based help for the county’s estimated 65,000 undocumented residents and their families.
“The board has made many decisions that have been rapid,” Supervisor Federal Glover said, remarking on the expediency with which the expensive pilot program was pushed through. “Many times we live up in the world of the unknown, and that’s because our nation has put us in the position to be in the world of the unknown.”
According to the Migration Policy Institute, 37 percent of Contra Costa County’s undocumented population has at least one minor in the household. The specter of families being torn apart by Trump-era immigration orders has created a dire need in the county for added services, advocates said Tuesday.
Under the proposal, an estimated 2,000 residents will receive Know Your Rights presentations. Another 1,000 will receive free legal consultations, while an estimated 200 residents will have no-cost representation afforded to them.
Ali Saidi, an immigration attorney with the Public Defender’s Office, spearheaded the pilot program. In his presentation to the board, he talked about working with local schools and other organizations to get the word out about how the program can help families feel more secure.
“There is a feeling of alienation from both our national and local governments,” Saidi said, imploring county leaders to approve funding. “There is mistrust and fear, and that’s compounded by a lack of access to resources and due process rights.”
The program’s goals are myriad: In addition to providing no-cost legal assistance, Stand Together Contra Costa includes a rapid response network and emergency hotline designed to help confirm — or dispel — reports of immigration raids happening within county limits. In the past few months, false reports of raids circulating on social media have led people to avoid grocery stores and schools, fearing that ICE agents were conducting immigration sweeps at those locations.
Saidi had already secured more than $500,000 in funding commitments from various organizations, including $100,000 from the California Endowment and another $100,000 from the San Francisco Foundation. Although the rest was originally going to come from the county’s general fund, it will now be administered through AB 109 funding, which the state earmarked for public safety and prison realignment in 2011.
Supervisor Karen Mitchoff, who introduced the proposal to the board, noted that she would like to see data showing the pilot program's efficacy if it is to continue past its first year. She described it as a temporary solution, one that is necessary because the U.S. has yet to work out a sustainable and holistic immigration reform plan.
“In order to show the public that this money is well spent, we need to know how many people you’re serving and what kind of services were provided,” Mitchoff said. “This isn’t a program that is supposed to go on for 10 years.”
The program will be re-evaluated next April, at which time the board will decide whether to approve another round of funding.