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News

Law Office Management

Nov. 2, 2014

Public Defenders: Indigent Immigrants Gain Representation

Public defenders in some counties help unrepresented immigration defendants.

Northern California is part of a small but accelerating nationwide movement by public agencies to provide advisers to protect the legal rights of immigrants, who are not guaranteed representation in immigration court.

In January, Alameda County hired the state's first public defender to work full time on the immigration consequences of criminal justice proceedings. (New York City started a pilot program in 2013.) San Francisco hired its first full-time civil immigration attorney in August.

"Even a minor brush with the law can trigger devastating consequences for San Francisco families," Public Defender Jeff Adachi said in a statement. "This collateral damage is far worse than a jail sentence."

Raha Jorjani, an Iranian immigrant whose family was in removal proceedings when she was a child, went into immigration law after learning it was the only civil arena in which the United States incarcerates people. She now represents Alameda County criminal defendants in removal proceedings, advises colleagues, and trains other county employees, including prosecutors, in immigration law.

As an example of the services her new position enables, Jorjani says she advises lawyers on invoking a new federal law that qualifies some undocumented immigrant youths for green cardsor "special immigrant juvenile status"once a state judge finds that abuse, abandonment, or neglect prevents a youth from reuniting with either parent. (See 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(27)(J).)

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Kari Santos

Daily Journal Staff Writer

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