Santa Ana Plans Legal Defense Fund for Undocumented Immigrants Facing Deportation

Orange County’s second-largest city would pay for attorneys to represent undocumented residents facing deportation, under a preliminary plan endorsed by council members early Wednesday.

In a unanimous 7-0 vote, the Santa Ana City Council directed city staff to collaborate with groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and UC Irvine School of Law to prepare a coordinated effort to provide legal representation to Santa Ana residents who are at risk of deportation but can’t afford an attorney.

Supporters called it an important step to prevent families from being torn apart in the heavily-immigrant city, as President Trump expands federal agents’ priorities for deportation to include any unauthorized immigrant who has been accused of any crime.

Trump had talked about focusing on hardened criminals, but “now they’re going to go after anybody who has a [criminal] charge,” said Councilman Vicente Sarmiento, who introduced the measure after being approached by activists. “In the world of due process, that just means you have to be accused of something, and the accusation could be very, very unfounded. That’s scary.”

The only public concerns came from two councilmen, Jose Solorio and Juan Villegas, who raised issues like legal liability and whether taxpayers will be paying to represent violent criminals. After further discussion, both ended up voting for the directive.

If adopted, as appears likely based on council members’ comments, Santa Ana would be joining large cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. that have created similar funds for undocumented immigrants – and set up a likely showdown with the federal government.

Santa Ana has one of the largest immigrant populations, as a share of its overall residents, of any city its size in the United States. Nearly half the population was born in another country and about 40 percent of adult residents are non-citizens.

The proposal drew 18 public speakers from organizations like the ACLU, UC Irvine School of Law, Western State College of Law, the Orange County Labor Federation, and Resilience OC, all in support of the proposal and offering to help.

“Today it is a bedrock principal of our justice system that before imposing criminal incarceration we will provide anyone who cannot afford an attorney” with a trained advocate, said Annie Lai, a law professor at UC Irvine, who like several other speakers stayed until after midnight in order to address the council.

Advocates said thousands of U.S. citizen children in Santa Ana are at risk of losing one or both of their parents to deportation, which they said would traumatize the children and put many at risk of being put into foster care.

Immigrants in deportation proceedings are at a severe disadvantage if they don’t have representation, and are five times more likely to succeed in their case if represented by an attorney, said an ACLU representative.

“The city needs to act. We can’t just sit silent” and sit by while members of our immigrant community “are under attack,” said Hugo Salazar, a policy analyst with the labor federation.

There were no public speakers against the effort. Critics elsewhere have viewed such moves as protecting people who violated federal law.

The effort did draw some concern from Solorio and Villegas.

Villegas said he was worried about the city’s costs for the overall program and, whether the city would face legal liability if a case doesn’t go a client’s way. He ended up voting for the measure after Sarmiento responded that any city costs would be up to the council at a future meeting, and said the city’s attorneys would do no legal representation. Instead, immigrants would be represented by lawyers from outside groups.

Solorio said he wanted the city to have control over who gets represented, so that taxpayers aren’t covering the legal costs of “murderers, rapists, [and] child molesters.” An audience member then shouted that Solorio sounded “like Donald Trump.”

Solorio suggested the city prioritize representing veterans and students, known by pro-immigration activists as “dreamers.”

He also opposed working with two activist groups Sarmiento identified in his original proposal, saying he found “profanity” on at least one of their Facebook pages and they oppose other city policies. But Solorio also ended up supporting the plan directing staff to study Sarmiento’s measure further, after Sarmiento removed the activist groups’ names from the directive while encouraging staff to work with any group that wants to collaborate.

Solorio also told city staff to set priorities for who the city would legally represent, like veterans, “dreamers,” and nonviolent offenders, and bring those recommendations back to the council.

Mayor Miguel Pulido, who has taken an anti-illegal immigration stance in the past, also supported the effort.

Pulido pointed to the city of L.A. as a model for using the city payments to also bring in private sector dollars. He said he hoped people in Orange County would also be willing to provide private money toward the fund.

Staff were directed to study the legal, financial and logistical issues of the legal defense fund and report back to the council with recommendations for action. The next council meeting is scheduled for March 7.

Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at

  • Bob Stevens

    So public tax money used to pay for attorneys for non citizens in a civil proceeding. There is no legal justification for this. Private money, fine. If the ACLU and the UCI law clinic want to donate time and manpower, fine. But not public tax dollars. It’s also quite ridiculous that the UCI law professor that was there tries to claim that the detained immigrants legally deserve attorneys when she fully knows that the law does not say that at all. Attorneys are only given in criminal matters and a deportation action is civil, not criminal. So how is Santa Ana going to react when actual citizen city residents want attorneys for their own civil suits with the city or county? Going to be hard to say no.

  • Bobby Cooper

    This is why California is $443 Billion in debt. When the Federal Government Blocks all Federal Grants to the City of Santa Ana and 1,000s of criminals move to Santa Ana “Seeking Protection” from the Federal Government. When people refuse to travel to Santa Ana or do business with this city. Maybe they will just build a wall around Santa Ana with Guard Towers and call it good.

    • Bobby Cooper

      ICE Just filed paperwork to pull all Federal Funds from the City of Santa Ana ! It won’t be too long before California is given back to Mexico.

  • justanon

    Why hasn’t trump slapped a $25,000 dollar per infraction fine on the employers of undocumented workers? It would be so easy and effective.
    I’ll tell you why, because Carl’s Jr. or McDonalds paying millions in fines doesn’t get his racist base off the way seeing brown people crying as they’re being deported does.
    The racist’s just love to j*rk-off to brown people’s misery.
    So despicable and deplorable.

    • LFOldTimer

      Trump’s been in office a month and 3 days. He’s not God who created Earth is 6 days. Trump said that eventually be would mandate E-Verify and fine disobedient employers. You have the patience of a wolf hound in a meat factory.

      Those who illegally entered the country need to go back home and apply for entry the right way. And we need to bring in lawful immigrant foreigners who have been waiting 5-10 years to come to America.

      Why would you want to reward lawbreakers and punish those who obey the laws?

      Do you want to live in a 1st world or 3rd world nation?

      • justanon

        Yeah, he found the time to terrorize brown people, when in fact, increasing the fines and enforcement on employers would have been the EASIER fix.
        But just look how it excites his racist base, their positively giddy at seeing ICE officers stomping around arresting women, children and even the sick.
        You can also stop with the canard that most of these people can “get in line”, there is no line.
        And as to what kind of country I want to live in, I can tell you this, the last 33 days have been the most embarrassing and appalling in my lifetime. We are well on our way to an authoritarian state.

        • LFOldTimer

          So there’s no such think as a white illegal alien? ha. Where do you come up with this stuff? lol.

          When people break criminal laws they should be scared. That’s the reason we have laws in a civilized society. To scare people into acting civilized and to compel them not to violate the rights of others. I learned that in 5th grade civics.

          If they didn’t break our immigration laws or labor laws or identity theft laws there’d be no reason to be scared.

          If the last 33 days have been the most embarrassing and appalling in your lifetime my guess is that you’ve lived a very sheltered life.

        • LFOldTimer

          Here’s a very easily understood DJT chart which might help clear up some of your confusion, justanon:

  • justanon


  • LFOldTimer

    “In Orange County, 27 percent of young children lived in poverty. And the difference between rich and poor areas was wide: from 9 percent in Newport Beach, Aliso Viejo and Laguna Hills, to 48 percent in East Santa Ana.”

    You see, no one wants to tell the truth anymore. The uncontrolled illegal immigration problem in California or Orange County wasn’t mentioned even once in this article. The media is nothing but fake news. They OMIT vital politically incorrect information from their articles to control the minds of the readers. And as reporters who allegedly adhere to a journalistic oath – it is absolutely shameful. They are selling the county and the state and the nation right down the river.

    So 27% of Orange County children live in poverty. Hello??? Is anyone out there awake???

    For God sake – start telling the darn TRUTH!!!!

  • LFOldTimer

    Why don’t we have an honest discussion about this problem?

    Those who are in the country illegally have committed a crime. If they work – they’ve committed a second crime. If they engaged in identity theft to get over on the system (like Senator De Leon says his relatives have done and many other do) they’ve committed a third crime.

    Every illegal takes the place of a LAWFUL IMMIGRANT who could come to America and never have to come out of the shadows. In the meantime, LAWFUL IMMIGRANTS on placed on hold because the illegals saturate the nation leaving no room for the ones who actually obey the rules and follow the laws. So the immigrants we most want in our society are rejected while the foreign criminals are allowed to roam freely, steal jobs and use our resources. Citizens who live by a moral code would certainly agree.

    Naturally none of the high-brow attorneys would mention this because it’s NOT politically correct and it’s not good for business. The more illegal immigrants there are in our society they more money they can make off crime.

    IF SA city taxpayer dollars are spent on these attorneys for illegal foreigners it is a slap in the face to all lawful immigrants and citizens who live there, particularly with the lack of funding for more housing and the increasing crime rate.

    The SA City Council, sworn under oath to uphold the laws and defend the US Constitution and protect the citizen taxpayers, are turning SA into one big barrio.

    If it wasn’t so tragic it would be hilarious.

    • justanon

      “Every illegal takes the place of a LAWFUL IMMIGRANT who could come to America”

      Who are you trying to fool? We all know you are talking about Mexican immigrants and there are not enough “legal” slots for Mexican immigrants. We want and have exploited their cheap labor for years and then we want to PRETEND like there was a “legal” way for the numbers of Mexican immigrants we have needed to have come here legally, that is just so much Bullsh*t!

      Let’s go after employers, where, oh, where is trump on that? MIA, as that doesn’t satisfy his racist base, they need to be able to kick and denigrate immigrants in order to feel good.

      • LFOldTimer

        Oh, so now you rent a room inside my brain??? lol.

        Before I write a comment I’ll check with you first to get approval. lol.

        My comments about illegal aliens encompasses ALL illegal aliens, regardless of race, creed or national origin.

        You make illegal aliens out to be victims. A typical disingenuous liberal tactic. We see though it. You don’t fool us.

        All illegals WILLFULLY snuck into the country or violated their visa agreement knowing it was a crime to do so.

        “We” haven’t exploited anyone. I have never hired an illegal. If you want to use first person singular – be my guest. But leave me out of it. I don’t aid and abet.

        For you to imply that illegals are only Mexicans strikes me as a bigoted comment.

        Trump has taken action on restoring immigration law in America.

        Trump and Sessions will likely go after employers. It’s on their agenda to implement E-Verify. So hold your horses and be patient.

        There is nothing “racist” about wanting immigration laws enforced like all other civilized nations do. I want illegal Swedes kicked out of the country just as fast as illegals from south of the border. You seem to be taking the pot-kettle approach by implying all illegals are Mexicans. Clean it up.

      • Marcus Oakenshield

        “We want and have exploited their cheap labor for years” oh Americans are forcing Mexicans to work for less right? And you go after employers that hire these low paid Illegal Aliens which most are from that country to begin with themselves, then all the Illegal Aliens that cannot find work will turn to crime just like it is in their country hence Illegals Aliens crossing the border. And one more thing, if one wants to be come a legal citizen then one must learn English and adopt the United States culture and pay taxes and not speak their own language everywhere they go and expect others to speak as well, get paid in cash, have tons of illegal alien kids and abuse welfare, and do not bring your culture into this country, May 5th to me means absolutely nothing or should I say nada?

  • verifiedsane

    This is how up side down and *ss backwards these elected by “citizens” supposed representatives have become….why would our tax dollars go to represent illegal aliens against Federal jurisdiction & law? This politically correct crowd of far left open border advocates are out of control. All Federal dollars should be cut off from cities like Santa Ana…it’s time for them to reap exactly what they sow…Just maybe the citizenry will finally wake up from their long slumber and get rid of these corrupt self serving political clowns…