Cities up im­mi­grant le­gal aid af­ter Trump win


CHICAGO | Ma­jor U.S. 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 in­com­ing Repub­li­can 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.

Mr. 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. Richard J. 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 Mr. 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 im­mi­grant-friendly 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 cash-strapped city di­verted the funds from a lit­tle-used home­owner rebate pro­gram.

“I’m not a hater,” Mr. Sposato said dur­ing the vote at full the coun­cil meet­ing. “Any given day, 1,000 home­less vet­er­ans [are] out there. What are we do­ing for them?”


“We need to stand by peo­ple who are fear­ful,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said of his city’s ap­proval of $1.3 mil­lion in le­gal aid funds for im­mi­grants fear­ful of de­por­ta­tion un­der Don­ald Trump.

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