Mission & Story
The SFILDC provides full-scope legal representation to recently arrived families and unaccompanied minors who are on the expedited dockets before the San Francisco Immigration Court. These dockets are also known as "surge" or "rocket" dockets. The majority are refugees and have avenues to lawful status in the United States under existing law. Our 13 organizational members represent hundreds of individuals in their immigration cases and reach many more through advocacy, outreach, and participation in the longstanding Attorney of the Day Program.
In the spring and summer of 2014, record numbers of unaccompanied minors and families -- mainly women with small children -- arrived at the Southwest U.S. border, seeking refuge from rising levels of violence in their home countries of Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico. Though advocates, policy makers, and researchers had for several years observed a steady increase of family and unaccompanied child migrants, the issue made national headlines in June 2014 when President Obama issued a statement declaring an "urgent humanitarian situation" at the Southwest U.S. border. Later that month, the President sent a letter to Congressional leaders announcing his intention to introduce "an aggressive deterrence strategy focused on the removal and repatriation of recent border crossers." In response to this directive, immigration courts across the nation began to expedite the cases of recently arrived immigrant unaccompanied children and family units in an effort to process their deportations as quickly as possible.
The Surge Dockets
The first "surge" (or expedited) dockets were heard in the San Francisco Immigration Court on July 30, 2014. Hundreds of unaccompanied children and families appeared before immigration judges in the first several weeks alone. Most were unrepresented. All had been in the U.S. for no more than three weeks. Bay Area nonprofit attorneys, already under-resourced and with towering caseloads, struggled to represent these children and families and to refer those whose cases they couldn't accept to other agencies and public interest attorneys. They protested the additional pressures caused by the accelerated pace of surge docket hearings. Some argued that the expedited timeline posed threats to immigrants' due process rights by limiting their ability to find and retain attorneys.
Support from the San Francisco Mayor's Office and Board of Supervisors
In September 2014, the Board of Supervisors voted to allocate $2.1 million over two years to fund legal services for immigrant families and unaccompanied minors facing deportation on the surge dockets. Mayor Edwin Lee signed the allocation into law. The 13 groups chosen to receive this funding joined together to form the SFILDC to leverage their collective resources and maximize their impact.