In the U.S. criminal justice system, defendants are entitled to an attorney. If they cannot afford one, a public defender is provided. However, when someone is accused of an immigration offense, if they cannot afford an attorney, none is provided. Immigrants who go to court without an attorney stand very little chance of winning their cases. An October 2019 study conducted in Tucson found that they are successful without representation only 14% of the time. In contrast, 62% of those who appeared with counsel were able to remain in the United States.
A typical scenario: someone is stopped for a taillight being out. They cannot produce proper identification, and ICE is alerted. The driver is put in detention, despite having lived and worked in Pima County for a decade or more. Bond amounts commonly begin at $10,000, and unlike criminal bonds, where only 10% needs to be posted, with immigration bonds 100% has to be posted to get out of jail.
Last year, close to 24,000 cases were processed through Tucson Immigration Court. In 98% of those cases, people did not have a lawyer to represent and defend them. These are our families, friends, and neighbors who have been in the area for years, paying taxes and helping build our communities. Their detention and removal results in family separations, orphaned children, employers without employees, fear of law enforcement, loss of taxpaying residents, and poverty.
Pima County Justice for All/Justicia Para Todos is asking our community to support a 2024 ballot initiative that gives indigent Pima County residents facing detention or deportation access to a public defender (aka “universal representation”). If approved by voters, the initiative would establish the Office of Immigration Representation (to be funded by sliding scale fees and public and private funding), to protect due process and fundamental rights, fight poverty, and safeguard the health, safety, and welfare of our residents. Read the full version of the proposition in English or Spanish.
Pima County Justice for All/Justicia Para Todos was founded as a non-profit, 501(c)(4) social welfare entity in 2020 with the mission of securing universal representation for indigent Pima County residents in immigration proceedings.
The campaign is led by Pima County Public Defender and founder of Keep Tucson Together/Mantenga Tucson Unidos, Margo Cowan; Isabel Garcia, co-founder of Derechos Humanos and former leader of the Pima County Public Defender’s office; Raquel Rubio-Goldsmith, co-director of the Binational Migration Institute at the Department of Mexican American Studies at the University of Arizona and founding faculty emeritus at Pima Community College; and Guadalupe Castillo, also faculty emeritus at Pima Community College and a Tucson human rights activist for more than 50 years. Read more about organizing committee members below (coming soon!).
Cowen, Garcia, Rubio-Goldsmith, and Castillo first came together in the early 1970s at the Manzo Area Council, a War on Poverty program started under President Johnson, and became known as Las Mujeres de Manzo. In the ’80s, the group was the lone voice identifying and opposing the militarization of the border. In solidarity with other activists, they went on to shape humanitarian relief groups such as Coalición de Derechos Humanos and No More Deaths/No Mas Muertes and became actively involved in the Sanctuary Movement. Their collective efforts have given rise to many of the international human rights activities in our region. In January 2020, Las Mujeres de Manzo were honored with the Local Genius Award by Tucson’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA).