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California’s First County Public Defender Immigration Representation Project

August 20, 2014

via Raha Jorjani:

Raha Jorjani. Photo by ©Kathy Anderson via ABA Journal

Raha Jorjani. Photo by ©Kathy Anderson via ABA Journal

I write to share with you that as of January 2014, I joined the Alameda County Office of the Public Defender in order to create and direct the first county Public Defender immigration representation project on the west coast and in the State of California.

As part of this project, I am able to represent a limited number of public defender clients in their subsequent removal proceedings. This means that the public defender will not only make appearances in criminal court, but also in immigration court – with a focus on detained cases

Our first such appearance in San Francisco immigration court turned heads! I am excited that this move signals a shift in the way we view indigent defense in California. Our hope is that with the launch of this groundbreaking model, other county public defender offices will develop similar programs and our understanding is that this has already begun to happen.

It was an extremely difficult decision to leave the Immigration Law Clinic of the UC Davis School of Law. One could not ask for more supportive, brilliant, and inspiring colleagues to work with. I am comforted by the fact that I will continue to be able to collaborate with those colleagues in this new position.

Part of my mandate here is to provide technical assistance to other PD offices who would like to explore adding a similar position so please feel free to mention this news to local PD offices you believe may be interested. My new contact info is below.

We are moving California slowly to try and catch up with New York City! Thank you to all of the amazing advocates who pushed right to counsel in NYC and gave us a viable model to point to!

Here’s the official press release from Alameda County Public Defender

California’s First County Public Defender Immigration Representation ProjectScreen shot 2014-08-20 at 8.29. pm  PDT

On January 21, 2014, the Alameda County Public Defender’s Office made history by launching California’s first public defender immigration representation project. The office hired Raha Jorjani as a full-time immigration attorney and “crimmigration” expert. Since 2009, she had worked part-time consulting public defenders in the Office regarding immigration consequences of criminal convictions. In her new position, she now also represents noncitizen clients in subsequent removal proceedings and helps them obtain lawful permanent resident status in the United States. Since her January hiring, she has followed a number of clients into immigration court.

This marks the first time that a county public defender’s office in California has appeared on behalf of clients in immigration court. Ms. Jorjani, a nationally recognized expert in the intersection of criminal and immigration law, had proposed her new position as a direct response to the lack of procedural safeguards available to noncitizens in removal proceedings, including the lack of a right to appointed counsel for indigent noncitizens facing deportation. What happens in criminal court can have disproportionately punitive consequences in immigration court. Her hiring recognizes that effective representation does not end at the courthouse doors.

Ms. Jorjani has nearly a decade of experience in representing noncitizens detained by the Department of Homeland Security and facing deportation. Before joining the Office full-time in January, she spent nearly 7 years as a Clinical Professor at the UC Davis School of Law, Immigration Law Clinic. She also has extensive experience — both locally and nationally — in training members of the criminal defense and immigration bars regarding immigration consequences of convictions. Along with directing the Office’s immigration representation project, she carries an active caseload. She also consults with other Alameda County offices, including the Sheriff and the District Attorney, to develop policies to help them navigate the increasing complex intersection of law enforcement and immigration.

The Alameda County Office of the Public Defender sees Ms. Jorjani’s hiring as an important shift toward a more holistic model of indigent defense, and invites other public defenders to follow in its footsteps. To that end, the Office is available to provide guidance and technical assistance to California defender offices who are interested in exploring similar programs. For more information, please contact Ms. Jorjani, Immigration Defense Attorney, at (510) 268-7401.

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