March 28, 2017. By Samantha Weigel, San Mateo Daily Journal

In an acknowledgment of San Mateo County’s diversity and inspired by the nation’s changing immigration policies, the Board of Supervisors is considering ways to support those facing deportation or language barriers.

County officials will host a study session Tuesday, March 28, on actions to support immigrants that include setting up a legal defense fund, creating an access policy across county departments for non-English speakers, and establishing a new Office of Community Affairs.

In a report authored by Supervisor Warren Slocum, the representative of one of the most immigrant-rich districts in San Mateo County said he was encouraged to propose further action after hearing anecdotes from those feeling the repercussions of the national debate.

“Further, rhetoric and actions coming from Washington, D.C., have been felt throughout the county from Pescadero to Pacifica and from East Palo Alto to Daly City, sowing fear among our most vulnerable population. The county has received reports of undocumented parents who, out of fear, have retreated into the shadows and of Dreamers who have stopped attending school out of the fear of being deported,” Slocum wrote.

This week’s meeting and proposed actions are a follow-up to the board adopting a statement of support for immigrants last month. In that non-binding resolution, the board acknowledged it wouldn’t create sanctuary status. Instead, supervisors noted they would abide by laws and cooperate when asked, but ultimately leave enforcement of immigration laws up to the federal government.

Some considerations during that discussion included whether to set up a legal defense fund — which Slocum proposes would include the county allocating up to $267,000 toward attorneys who represent those facing civil deportation cases.

Citing a 2015 study by the University of Pennsylvania, the report notes immigrants with legal counsel are nearly six times more likely to obtain relief from being deported than those who aren’t represented. However, nationally only 37 percent are able to obtain an attorney and of those held in detention centers, only 14 percent have lawyers, according to Slocum’s report.

The funds would be allocated toward legal service providers to represent San Mateo County residents as a way to help “our most vulnerable residents will receive assistance in litigating their cases,” Slocum wrote.

As a study session, no formal action will be taken but it will set the groundwork for staff to begin expanding support for immigrants as well as establishing new areas within county government. 

Another component of the proposal is to create a new Office of Community Affairs, which would help link government resources and services to underserved populations, according to the report.

San Mateo County has a history of being culturally diverse. Between 2000 and 2010, the local immigrant population increased from 25.5 percent to 33.3 percent — more than any other county in California, according to the report.

“Our county’s immigrant population brings a vibrant culture and diversity to our communities, but at the same time, many immigrants face unique challenges that are exacerbated by linguistic, cultural and financial barriers,” Slocum wrote.

Citing a Silicon Valley Community Foundation survey on immigration, nearly 40 percent of those who responded reported they make less than $20,000 a year. And according to U.S. census data, nearly half of San Mateo County residents speak a language other than English at home — which represents about 315,000 people. Collectively, more than 100 languages are spoken by residents, according to the report.

The third component of Tuesday’s meeting is to consider creating a countywide “language access policy” to ensure all residents have equal access to programs and services. Currently, programs overseen by departments like the county’s Health System and Human Services Agency have such programs, which will be considered along with other current practices and how to improve means to assist clients who speak a language other than English, according to the report.

“This resolution is in alignment with the county’s commitment, as reflected in its mission statement, to treat ‘people with dignity and respect.’” Slocum wrote in support of his proposal. “This resolution will provide a humanitarian response to our most underserve[d] population at a time in which fear from the federal government has cause[d] stress, concerns, lack of participation and anxiety for our diverse residents.”

The Board of Supervisors meets beginning 9 a.m. Tuesday, March 28, at 400 County Center, Redwood City. 

samantha@smdailyjournal.com

(650) 344-5200 ext. 106