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Fear of deportation is driving immigrants to seek legal advice

Immigration lawyer Yanci Montes advises a client at El Rescate, a non-profit that provides free legal services to immigrants in Pico-Union.
Immigration lawyer Yanci Montes advises a client at El Rescate, a non-profit that provides free legal services to immigrants in Pico-Union.
Leo Duran/KPCC

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Donald Trump's win lit a fire under the seats of immigrants in Southern California.

"Before the election took place, a lot of people were not concerned about their legal status," says immigration lawyer Yanci Montes. "But as soon as the elections got closer and as soon as the results came out, I saw more people seeking legal help."

Montes offers free legal advice every Wednesday at El Rescate, a small non-profit that offers immigration services in L.A.'s Pico-Union neighborhood.

"In the past, we would get about 10 to 15 families," she says. "Now we're seeing about 20 to 25 families."

One woman who's undocumented came in to seek help for her teenage son. He's eligible to apply for asylum in the United States, and she needs to be at his immigration hearing.

But if she shows up in court, she worries federal agents will arrest her.

"I'm in two different predicaments," she says, "so right now, I'm just hoping for a miracle from God so that they can help my son to be here in the United States legally."

Montes says many of her other undocumented clients feel the same way: they are afraid to argue their cases. They worry that immigration authorities will detain them at the courthouse.

Fear like that, right now, might be a little surprising because there was a lot for immigrants to be anxious about even before the election: President Obama deported more people than any other president in history. Some even called him "Deporter in Chief."

In fact, add up all the people deported by presidents in the 20th century, and that number doesn't compare to how many the Obama administration booted out – more than 2.5 million people.

But people visiting El Rescate say they weren't really worried it would happen to them until now.

"Since President Trump was elected, all of us who are here with documentation or without documents feel that fear of being here," says another client of Montes' who has a green card, but fears it might be taken away because of a perjury conviction.

Montes adds that she's concerned over how the government has accelerated immigration proceedings, shrinking down wait times for a court date from years to just weeks, in some cases.

"They even call it 'rocket docket,'" she says. "It doesn't give [my clients] the opportunity to prepare their cases better in order for them to get their documentation, in order to present their evidence adequately."

Listen to the full visit to El Rescate by using the blue audio player above.