Ci­ties, coun­ties plan im­mi­grant le­gal aid af­ter Trump’s vic­tory

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Ma­jor US ci­ties and coun­ties are beef­ing up le­gal ser­vices for im­mi­grants to help them fight de­por­ta­tion and avoid fraud­u­lent lawyers in the wake of Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion and his hard-line im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment prom­ises. Tap­ping lo­cal gov­ern­ment funds to rep­re­sent im­mi­grants in fed­eral pro­ceed­ings pro­vides an early ex­am­ple of the type of push­back the Repub­li­can in­com­ing pres­i­dent will re­ceive in Demo­cratic strongholds. Ad­vo­cates call it a mat­ter of jus­tice and smart eco­nomics, but some ques­tion whether it’s a fair use of tax­payer money.

Chicago has ap­proved a $1.3 mil­lion le­gal fund. Los Angeles elected of­fi­cials said Mon­day they are work­ing with pri­vate foun­da­tions to set up a $10 mil­lion fund, while some Cal­i­for­nia state law­mak­ers have pro­posed spend­ing tens of mil­lions of dol­lars to pro­vide lawyers to im­mi­grants fac­ing de­por­ta­tion. New York is mulling a pub­lic-pri­vate le­gal fund, build­ing on New York City’s pub­lic de­fender pro­gram that’s con­sid­ered a na­tional model. “We need to be able to stand by peo­ple who are fear­ful,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a for­mer White House chief of staff, said af­ter the mea­sure passed the City Coun­cil last week.

Trump’s pledges to build a bor­der wall and de­port the es­ti­mated 11 mil­lion peo­ple liv­ing in the coun­try with­out le­gal per­mis­sion have trig­gered uncer­tainty in im­mi­grant cir­cles. He has since scaled back the de­por­tee num­ber, but not de­tailed his plat­form. Since his win, a lack of le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tion for im­mi­grants has be­come a growing con­cern. It was the top is­sue raised by a Chicago task force of lead­ers, in­clud­ing Demo­cratic Sen Dick Durbin, con­vened af­ter the elec­tion. Los Angeles County su­per­vi­sor Hilda So­lis said she’s es­pe­cially wor­ried about the fate of un­ac­com­pa­nied mi­nors and young im­mi­grants who filed per­sonal in­for­ma­tion with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to ob­tain work per­mits un­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

In Los Angeles, of­fi­cials want the fund set up be­fore Trump be­comes pres­i­dent in Jan­uary. About half the money will come from the city and county and half from pri­vate do­na­tions. “We don’t know how far the new ad­min­is­tra­tion will go when it comes to our na­tion’s im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy, but we’ve all heard the rhetoric, the dan­ger­ous rhetoric of the elec­tion,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. “And we are ready to sup­port peo­ple who can’t af­ford or who don’t re­al­ize they might need a lawyer.”

Im­mi­grants aren’t guar­an­teed a lawyer in im­mi­gra­tion court and only about 37 per­cent of those in de­por­ta­tion pro­ceed­ings have le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tion, ac­cord­ing to a Septem­ber Amer­i­can Im­mi­gra­tion Coun­cil re­port. Demo­cratic state law­mak­ers in Cal­i­for­nia have pro­posed leg­is­la­tion that could cost up to $80 mil­lion for im­mi­gra­tion at­tor­neys and other le­gal train­ing. Santa Clara County is look­ing into the idea and San Fran­cisco Mayor Ed Lee added $1.5 mil­lion to a fund for im­mi­grant le­gal ser­vices.

In Chicago - where an es­ti­mated 150,000 peo­ple do not have per­ma­nent le­gal sta­tus - the money will be di­vided among two non­prof­its. One will fo­cus on poor im­mi­grants fac­ing de­por­ta­tion. The other will em­ploy 200 “com­mu­nity nav­i­ga­tors” who will network through churches, schools and com­mu­nity events to find im­mi­grants who are in the coun­try il­le­gally and help them fig­ure out if they have av­enues to stay.

“Peo­ple are ner­vous,” said Esper­anza Vil­lalo­bos, who al­ready does the job in Mex­i­can-heavy Chicago neigh­bor­hoods. She re­ports a surge in im­mi­grants seek­ing her out since the elec­tion. In Chicago, which has some of the most im­mi­grant­friendly laws in the na­tion, the de­bate over the fund had tense mo­ments, high­light­ing how con­tentious the is­sue is out­side Demo­cratic strongholds. Chicago set aside money only for one year and is bank­ing on pri­vate do­na­tions to keep it go­ing.

Three al­der­men rep­re­sent­ing neigh­bor­hoods with strong Trump sup­port voted against it, in­clud­ing Nicholas Sposato. He dis­missed it as “the le­gal de­fense fund for the illegals” and said Chicago should con­sider the money for other is­sues. The cash­strapped city di­verted the funds from a lit­tle-used home­owner re­bate pro­gram. “I’m not a hater,” Sposato said dur­ing the vote at full the coun­cil meet­ing. “Any given day, 1,000 home­less veter­ans out there. What are we do­ing for them?”

An­other rea­son cited by lo­cal gov­ern­ments for cre­at­ing the funds is the econ­omy, be­cause im­mi­grants, re­gard­less of le­gal sta­tus, work and pay taxes. In ad­di­tion, chil­dren of im­mi­grants who are de­ported may end up need­ing pub­licly-funded ser­vices such as fos­ter care and health care, said Avideh Mous­sa­vian, a pol­icy at­tor­ney with the Na­tional Im­mi­gra­tion Law Cen­ter in Wash­ing­ton.

“There’s the due process is­sue, but there’s ac­tu­ally quan­tifi­able eco­nomic im­pact,” she said. In 2013, New York City tested a pro­gram to in­fuse pub­lic de­fender of­fices with money for at­tor­neys ded­i­cated to rep­re­sent­ing de­tained im­mi­grants. The pro­gram has grown from $500,000 in its ini­tial year to roughly $6 mil­lion. At­tor­neys have rep­re­sented more than 1,500 im­mi­grants from 2013 through late last year, the most re­cent statis­tics avail­able. About 70 per­cent of at­tor­neys won their cases, ac­cord­ing to the non­profit Vera In­sti­tute of Jus­tice. — AP

CHICAGO: In this Dec 16, 2016 photo, Esper­anza Vil­lalo­bos, a “com­mu­nity nav­i­ga­tor,” works at her of­fice at The Res­ur­rec­tion Project. — AP

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