SANTA ANA, Calif. (KABC) -- A new research report says Orange County has some of the highest number of residents facing deportation in the state.
"The State of Immigration Enforcement and Legal Resources in Orange County" by the Orange County Justice Fund found more than 2.1 million immigration cases are pending as they wait for decisions from immigration judges.
OCJF executive director Sabrina Rivera said the Department of Justice opened an immigration court in Santa Ana in November 2021 to address a historic number of residents with pending immigration cases.
"There's no due process if the immigration laws are unjust to begin with," Rivera said.
It's a legal system that people like Laura Hernandez, who is waiting for her immigration hearing, say is hard to navigate.
"I still, until this day, live in fear that ICE could come to pick me up," Hernandez said.
According to the report, there are almost 23,000 pending deportation cases awaiting decisions from an immigration judge at the Santa Ana immigration court.
As of February 2023, the court has deported 2,448 people.
Dr. Blanca Ramirez, who authored the report, said it is ironic because Santa Ana is Orange County's only sanctuary city.
"Our only sanctuary city and there's an immigration court in the middle of it," Ramirez said. "How cruel is that?"
The report also states many people are forced to go to immigration court without legal representation because there are not enough resources.
"As a lawyer, I know that when a person goes to court without counsel, without legal representation, they have a very, very limited chance of being successful, even though they may have a compelling argument," said Orange County District 2 Supervisor Vicente Sarmiento.
OCJF is asking county leaders and others with power to create additional resources for people facing deportation.
"If we don't start to take the steps that are necessary to support our immigrant community and to fund these resources, we are going to have a lot more community members deported," Hernandez said.
Orange County Justice Fund admits they have an uphill battle but hope people in the community and other legal resources can step up to help.