SAN DIEGO (Border Report) — San Diego County’s move to provide legal representation for immigrants facing removal proceedings is being hailed as a victory for not only migrants, but the entire U.S. legal system.

Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, or TRAC, which provides oversight to institutions such as Congress, news organizations, public interest groups, businesses, scholars and lawyers, says San Diego County’s move is an example for the region and the entire country.

TRAC is based at Syracuse University in New York.

It is applauding San Diego County for becoming the first border area county to agree to pay legal fees for immigrants facing deportation or the asylum process. The measure passed on a 3-2 vote.

The program will be reviewed after a year.

Austin Kocher is an Assistant Professor at Syracuse University and is associated with TRAC. (Courtesy: TRAC)

“The main difference in immigration cases comes down to whether or not someone has access to an attorney,” said Austin Kocher, a TRAC research assistant professor. “Migrants who have attorneys in asylum cases are five times more likely to have favorable outcome in those cases than those who don’t.

According to Kocher, he understands why opponents say the money could be better spent on services and programs for residents, but he says this actually benefits everyone considering some of the people facing deportation are already contributing members of society.

“This is a real win for not just immigrants who are facing deportation, if anything this is for the sense of fairness and rule of law, it’s important that immigrants have a right to counsel,” said Kocher. “The rule of law cuts both ways, these are people who have a right to stay in this country, but they often don’t know because they don’t have an attorney.”

According to the American Immigration Council, only 17 percent of detainees in San Diego have legal representation.

“Deportation proceedings are civil, they aren’t criminal, and they don’t fall under the rules where individuals are provided an attorney if they can’t afford one,” said Kocher.

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