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Sacramento paid $300,000 to help 6,000 undocumented residents with immigration problems

Twenty-eight undocumented immigrants facing deportation received legal aid paid for by the city of Sacramento to fight their removal under a program started last year, and which city officials are considering extending.

The effort, which the city funded with $300,000 last year, also paid for legal services for more than 300 people applying for citizenship, green cards and other services, said Marcus Tang, an immigration attorney, during a City Council presentation Tuesday.

In all, the program — called Family Unity, Education and Legal Network for Immigrants, or FUEL — has so far provided services to more than 6,000 families, including “know your rights” presentations to more than 2,000 families, emergency preparedness training to more than 200 families and training for more than 265 educators in three school districts, Tang said.

“Many undocumented people would come to our organization immediately after the election (of President Trump) and ask, ‘What do I do if I’m deported or detained? What happens to my children?’ We helped make plans for that,” Tang said.

The help has included creating legal guardianship for citizen children and financial plans for undocumented residents in case they are deported or detained. About 49,000 Sacramento residents are not U.S. citizens, including about 4,100 children, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures from 2017.

That’s about 10 percent of city’s residents. How many are here illegally is unknown. The census bureau does not currently ask about legal status.

Funding is not available for those with criminal records, though exceptions can be made for minor offenses such as marijuana possession, the city has said.

Sacramento Councilman Eric Guerra said an immigration crackdown under the current federal administration has left many undocumented immigrants in Sacramento in fear. Last year, Sacramento officially designated itself as a sanctuary city.

Guerra, who helped start the program, Tuesday forwarded a motion to extend it with additional funding. The council will debate the extension at a later date as part of budget discussions in February.

Guerra said he believed immigration enforcement prioritized by President Donald Trump will continue, leading to a need for legal services for immigrants that he believes the city should subsidize.

“We need to take the president at his word that he will go after working families in Sacramento,” Guerra told The Bee. “I think it’s imperative this program be continued.”

Jose Manuel Jimenez, who has been living in Sacramento since elementary school, told the council the program helped win him release from detention last week after he was held for 10 months.

Jimenez was a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, and now, with help from FUEL, has a green card, he said.

The Trump administration announced last year announced it would rescind the DACA program, which protects more than 700,000 undocumented young people from deportation and gives them renewable work permits. The fate of DACA is currently tied up in courts.

Jimenez asked the council to extend the FUEL progam.

“It meant a lot for me to just be acknowledged as a resident now that I hold a green card,” Jimenez said. “I hope it keeps going because I’ve seen a lot of people who need help,” he said.

Representatives from nonprofits including California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, La Familia Counseling Center, Sacramento Area Congregations Together, and others echoed the request for continued and increased city funding for the program.

“I think you’ve got a very supportive council here to continue and enhance this vital work for so many people,” Mayor Darrell Steinberg said.

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