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Santa Ana passes new rule to allow non-citizens on boards; beefs up spending to defend immigrants.

Non-citizens, including undocumented immigrants, can seek a spot on Santa Ana’s boards, commissions and committees after the City Council Tuesday night finalized a new law believed to be the first of its kind in Orange County.

The new rules mean future members of the city’s 10 boards have to be residents, but they don’t have to be voters and they don’t have to be in the country legally. Previously, only two of the city’s boards — the Youth Commission and the newer Measure X Citizen Oversight Committee — did not require members to be qualified voters.

A year ago, resident Carlos Perea became the first noncitizen to be appointed to a city board, when he joined the Measure X Committee.

But Perea, who has the temporary DACA status that protects him from deportation, was not the first non-citizen to join a public board in California. Several non-citizens have been appointed in recent years to a couple of state groups and, in Huntington Park, to local commissions. In 2019, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law Senate Bill 225, which allows California residents who are not citizens to be appointed to state boards and commissions.

In another action, the City Council agreed to spend at least $400,000 over the next two years to help defend local immigrants facing possible deportation. The council unanimously agreed to contract with the Immigrant Defenders Law Center to defend 24 new Santa Ana clients. The contract includes offering legal help to another 33 Santa Ana residents whose immigration cases are pending and who already are being offered services under an earlier contract, according to a city staff report.

While the new two-year contract is for $400,000, council members left the door open to possibly spend more within that time frame. That’s a turn-around from earlier years when immigrant-rights advocates had to lobby the city to contribute toward the fund.

In 2017, the first year of the Santa Ana Deportation Defense Fund, the city partnered with the New York-based Vera Institute of Justice to provide legal services to people threatened with deportation. That year, the city kicked in $65,000 and the Vera Institute provided $100,000 in seed money. Through the years, the city has increased its funding. This is the first time city officials have agreed to a two-year contract.

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