The following is a prepared testimony urging the San Diego County Board of Supervisors to invest in an Immigrant Legal Defense Program. The testimony was delivered to the Board of Supervisors by ACLU-SDIC Immigrant Rights and Binational Affairs Advocate Esmeralda Flores on May 4, 2021.

My name is Esmeralda Flores. I am the Immigrant Rights and Binational Affairs Advocate at the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties.

The ACLU is a proud member of the Invest in San Diego Families coalition. We are here to urge the Board of Supervisors to invest $5 million to create an Immigrant Legal Defense Program. This program would provide direct, legal representation to people in immigration proceedings in our county. Thank you, Supervisor Lawson-Remer, for leading this effort.

The right to counsel is fundamental to fairness and justice in our country.

While our government is represented by an attorney, people who can’t afford one are not provided legal representation by the government in immigration court proceedings. This is unfair.

People deserve access to counsel and a fair day in court. For people facing deportation, legal representation can be a critical line of defense in keeping families and communities together.

Despite the stakes involved, many people do not have legal representation in immigration court proceedings.

  • According to some studies, about two-thirds of all immigrants have no representation in immigration court. Accessing legal representation becomes even more challenging for people who are detained.
  • This issue is especially relevant in San Diego County where detention centers can hold up to 1,100 people.

No one should be forced to navigate this complicated system without legal representation. Language barriers can make this even more difficult.

The Board of Supervisors has an opportunity to inject fairness and equity into the immigration system.

We ask you to vote YES to support the creation of an Immigrant Legal Defense Program. Your YES vote will allow people to make informed decisions about their cases, access the rights they have under U.S. law, and, most importantly, help ensure that immigrant families and communities in our county have a fair opportunity to stay together.

Thank you for your time and consideration.