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With Mass Deportations Looming, Advocates Organize To Offer Aid To Migrants

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to begin today's program looking at how two of the week's biggest stories are affecting people's lives. In a few minutes, we'll hear what Iranian Americans in Southern California are telling their community news outlets about the escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

But first, we'll look at immigration. Yesterday, President Trump delayed proposed nationwide ICE raids, he says to give the Congress time to come up with a broader immigration plan. Earlier today, he tweeted, "I want to give the Democrats every last chance to quickly negotiate simple changes to asylum and loopholes" - unquote. He added, two weeks, and big deportation begins.

In the Bay Area, advocates and local governments have been preparing for something like this for years, building legal aid to help immigrants defend themselves from deportation. From member station KQED, Farida Jhabvala Romero has this report.

FARIDA JHABVALA ROMERO, BYLINE: Across California, two dozen rapid response networks have hotlines where anyone can call to report an arrest by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. For example...

HAMID YAZDAN PANAH: Someone that was presumably at home or on their way to school, and they're picked up by a number of agents in, you know, an unmarked vehicle, and they're whisked away from their family.

ROMERO: Hamid Yazdan Panah helps coordinate the networks from Kern County, north of Los Angeles, all the way to the Oregon border. He says those networks have dispatched immigration attorneys to consult with hundreds of migrants arrested by ICE.

PANAH: The rapid response networks - they're about building a bridge between attorneys and organizers and the community members and encouraging folks to not live in fear.

ROMERO: An ICE spokesman declined to say whether the agency would be conducting a large operation in California. But in a statement, he said ICE will continue to, quote, "conduct interior enforcement without exemption for those who are in violation of federal immigration law." President Trump has threatened mass immigration arrests before. After his election, San Francisco and other counties began spending millions of dollars to expand legal representation for immigrants who can't afford an attorney.

FRANCISCO UGARTE: Most of our clients have been in the United States for more than 10 years. Most of them have a U.S. citizen relative, whether it's a spouse or child.

ROMERO: Francisco Ugarte manages the Immigration Defense Unit with eight attorneys at the San Francisco Public Defenders Office. They represent people in ICE detention who are fighting their cases in San Francisco's immigration court, which covers a big part of the state.

UGARTE: We've been successful in helping those clients get released from custody about 50% of the time

ROMERO: Ugarte says his office is prepared to step up if ICE begins massive arrests.

UGARTE: We will not stand by idly if there's is a raid in our community.

ROMERO: But other parts of the state don't have as many immigration attorneys standing by.

JENNAYA DUNLAP: Because we don't have a lot of resources in terms of money to pay for everything, we do rely a lot on volunteers.

ROMERO: Jennaya Dunlap is the only paid staffer at the Inland Empire Emergency Response Network, which covers all of San Bernardino and Riverside Counties in Southern California.

DUNLAP: One of the big differences in our region is, unlike a metropolitan area such as LA or Orange County, folks are, like, wide spread out, and so getting information out isn't as easy.

ROMERO: She says they have a lot to handle. Being close to the border, both ICE and Border Patrol are targeting and arresting people in the Inland Empire. To beef up legal services for immigrants across California, the state legislature has proposed $65 million in the most recent budget awaiting Governor Gavin Newsom's signature. That's double what the state spent in 2016, before President Trump was elected.

For NPR News, I'm Farida Jhabvala Romero. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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