Immigrant legal aid plans beefed up
Trump’s hard-line promises have many on edge
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.