Standing Strong For Our Clients: The First 100 Days

Standing Strong For Our Clients:
The First 100 Days
From Legal Aid Executive Director M. Stacey Hawver

The first 100 days of the new administration in Washington, D.C. have tested the concept of justice for all, threatening the economic security, safety, and health of Legal Aid's clients. Locally, the administration's actions have fallen hardest on San Mateo County's large and diverse immigrant population. Most of Legal Aid's attorneys, whether they practice immigration, public benefits,  or housing law, have found themselves working to shield immigrant clients from the worst impacts of new anti-immigrant policies and sentiments. Our resolve to stand strong for our clients has never been more firm.  
What Has Changed?

Executive Order (EO) 13768, signed January 25, 2017, validated and exacerbated the fear and uncertainty created by anti-immigrant statements during the campaign and post-election period. The Executive Order requires agencies to enforce immigration laws against all removable immigrants, including immigrants with no criminal history whom Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents happen to encounter in the course of their duties. EO 13768 also expands enforcement priorities so broadly as to encompass virtually all unauthorized immigrants. The new priorities are already having an impact: From January to mid-March 2017, arrests of immigrants with no criminal records doubled compared to the same period last year.

Executive Order 13767, signed the same day, requires that most immigrants in removal proceedings be detained pending the outcome of their cases, rather than released into the community to continue working and supporting their families. If the policy favoring detention over release were fully implemented, long-term San Mateo County residents with no criminal history could spend years in jail before their cases are even heard. More than 40,000 cases are pending before the San Francisco Immigration Court, and the average case has been pending for more than two years. EO 13767 also proposes an expansion of expedited removal, which could allow ICE to deport any immigrant who has been in the U.S. for less than two years without a hearing. A draft Executive Order leaked to the media would, if signed, restrict access to immigration relief for immigrants who receive any public assistance, including medical and nutrition benefits as well as cash benefits.

The administration's early actions have already had a significant impact on San Mateo County residents, including U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and visa holders as well as unauthorized immigrants. Rumors of ICE raids, mostly false, travel swiftly throughout our community. Parents are afraid to take their children to school or to the doctor; they are abandoning their applications for medical and nutrition benefits for their U.S. citizen children. Children are fearful that their parents won't be there when they get home from school. Victims are afraid to report crimes. Tenants are afraid to fight evictions because their landlords threaten to report them to ICE. Small businesses are losing customers when ICE sightings are reported nearby, even when the rumors turn out to be false. Progress made through years of work by the County and the nonprofit community to increase immigrant participation in civic life has been undone. The administration's policies have pushed San Mateo County's immigrants deep into the shadows.

What Is Legal Aid Doing to Protect Our Clients?
  • Senior Attorney Jenny Horne and I, along with Office Manager Judith Goldstein and Project Coordinator Lacei Amodei, participated in a citizenship workshop at the San Mateo County Event Center in February, helping hundreds of San Mateo County residents complete the final steps to becoming new U.S. citizens. Director of Pro Bono Janet Seldon recruited dozens of attorneys from leading Silicon Valley law firms to volunteer at the workshop. The workshop was hosted by International Institute of the Bay Area, one of Legal Aid's partners in CRISP (Collaborative Resources for Immigrant Services on the Peninsula), and co-sponsored by the San Mateo County Human Services Agency.
  • In March, Jenny and I provided legal consultations following a Know Your Rights presentation by Catholic Charities at St. Timothy's Church in San Mateo.
  • With Legal Aid's LIBRE (Linking Immigrants to Benefits, Resources and Education) Project staff and volunteers, Directing Attorney Hope Nakamura gave presentations on immigrants' rights and immigrant eligibility for benefits in Redwood City, Menlo Park, San Mateo, and Pescadero.
  • Kate Stanford, Legal Aid's Family Advocacy Program (FAP) attorney, Senior Project Coordinator Francisca Guzman, and I gave seven presentations on the impact of immigration law changes on children's health at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, Gardner Packard Children's Health, and Ronald McDonald House, at the request of pediatric residents, attending physicians, medical social workers, and psychologists. With Stanford Professor of Pediatrics Fernando Mendoza and FAP medical directors Dana Weintraub and Baraka Floyd, Kate presented on the Impact of Immigration Policy on Child Health at Stanford Pediatric Grand Rounds.
  • Jenny Horne appeared on radio KALW's "Know Your Rights" to address immigration scams, cautioning immigrants about the dangers of falling prey to unscrupulous notarios who take advantage in times of widespread fear, uncertainty, and rumors.
  • Directing Attorney Shirley Gibson represented a domestic violence survivor whose landlord threatened to report her to ICE if she didn't agree to a rent increase. In interviews with CityLab, Univision, and other media outlets about the case, Shirley told the stories of tenants who were too fearful of immigration consequences to assert their legal rights, instead enduring unsafe living conditions, defensible evictions, and illegal rent increases.
  • Shirley's stories and data helped to shape Assembly Bill 291, the Immigrant Tenant Protection Act of 2017, which would bar landlords from disclosing or threatening to disclose tenants' immigration status to ICE. Shirley spoke at a press conference led by Assemblymember David Chiu announcing the bill.
For over 50 years, our community has turned to the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County. Together, you and I have created a trusted legal services organization known for its excellence. We don't know what will come in the next few months, but we can anticipate continuing efforts to impact immigrants, and people in need of health care, education and a safe place to live. Please join me in standing strong for our clients and make your contribution today at any level:
I'll be updating you regularly, but please don't hesitate to get in touch anytime. 
M. Stacey Hawver