Im­mi­grant le­gal aid plans beefed up

Trump’s hard-line prom­ises have many on edge

The Times-Tribune - - Obituaries / Nation - BY SOPHIA TA­REEN AND AMY TAXIN

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 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.

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. 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 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.

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