Immigration legal defense and universal representation

Making an impact

Check out what we're doing to help  keep families together and the community strong by protecting due process and providing legal representation to immigrants.


As a city, our duty is to keep our community safe and secure and to protect the well-being of our residents. By upholding due process, we maintain trust in the justice system and our local institutions, including law enforcement. Having efficient, effective and fair representation in immigration proceedings is the best way to keep the system working and keep us safe.

About universal representation

The lack of a right to government-funded counsel in the immigration justice system violates due process. One way in which the government deports immigrants from the United States is by placing them in removal proceedings in immigration courts administered by the U.S. Department of Justice. Removal (also known as deportation) is one of the most severe penalties a person can face under law.

For those deported, these proceedings carry serious consequences—removal from one’s home, separation from one’s family, loss of employment, and potential violence or death on return to the country of origin.

Considering the severe consequences of deportation, the lack of a right to government-funded counsel in removal proceedings violates due process and the basic fairness considered fundamental to the justice system. As the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which has been held applicable to deportation proceedings, states, “No person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

The right to appointed counsel, which the U.S. Supreme Court describes as “necessary to insure fundamental human rights of life and liberty,” has thus far only been applied in criminal proceedings. Yet the complexities of immigration law and the severe consequences at stake make it unjust and unreasonable to expect individuals to represent themselves competently in immigration court.

The lack of appointed counsel means that tens of thousands of people each year go unrepresented, including asylum seekers, longtime legal residents, immigrant parents or spouses of U.S. citizens, and even children.

Universal representation in Santa Ana

The foreign-born population in Santa Ana represents an important and diverse share of our community. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey, approximately 153,900 immigrants reside in Santa Ana—46 percent of the total population. Of those, 102,000 are non-U.S. citizens. Furthermore, four out of five children in Santa Ana have at least one immigrant parent—and the vast majority of those children are U.S. citizens. In response to concerns expressed by City residents, in addition to advocacy efforts by community organizers, the City has played an active role in supporting immigrants in Santa Ana.

On October 17, 2017, the City Council approved a Memorandum of Understanding with the Vera Institute of Justice to join their SAFE (Safety and Fairness for Everyone) Network to be eligible for one-time funding to support immigration legal defense services, along with on-going technical assistance and training, data collection, and research support. At this same meeting, the City Council also approved an agreement with Immigrant Defenders Law Center (ImmDef) to serve as the City's legal service provider (LSP) to provide immigration legal defense services. These services are provided under the universal representation model, which is publicly funded deportation defense for all.

ImmDef works closely with community-based organizations, such as Building Healthy Communities, legal service providers, and other immigration advocates to ensure that their services are accessible to the Santa Ana community.

For more information about the SAFE Network, visit Vera's website.

Immigration Services FAQs

Under the universal representation model, ImmDef provided full-scope removal defense assistance to individuals, regardless of the immigration relief available. Whereas traditional legal service programs may identify eligibility for representation through screening for viable immigration relief, the universal representation model ensures each client, regardless of potential relief, is given an opportunity to be heard.

The immigration legal defense fund is a program and legal defense fund that offers assistance to low-income immigrants in Santa Ana who face deportation.

People in immigration proceedings do not have the right to government-funded counsel. They must navigate complicated and ever-changing immigration laws alone against a trained government attorney, without the help of a lawyer.

Immigration Defenders Law Center (ImmDef) is the legal service provider for the City of Santa Ana’s immigration services. ImmDef, one of California’s leading nonprofit deportation defense organizations, focuses on assisting immigrants who are facing some of the most complex legal challenges. This covers representation for individuals with mental health issues, children and teens who came to the United States unaccompanied and are now facing deportation, and legal permanent residents who are facing deportation due to wrongful conviction.

On June 15, 2021, the City of Santa Ana City Council authorized an additional $100,000 for the fund as part of its approval of the City’s budget. This additional funding brought the total fund amount to $300,000. The City Council also made the defense fund a recurring item on the agenda for each year’s annual budget moving forward.

To qualify, you must:

1. Earn 200 percent or less of federal poverty guidelines;
2. Be unrepresented by counsel; and
3. Be a resident of Santa Ana immediately prior to detention by ICE (priority will be given to
residents who are detained).

Looking for services? Contact Immigrant Defenders Law Center

To contact Immigrant Defenders Law Center, call or visit us.

Phone: (213) 634-0999
Fax: (213) 282-3122

634 Spring Street, Los Angeles, CA 90014
(by appointment only, please call to schedule an appointment)

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