L.A. County Contributes $1 Million to Immigrant Defense Fund

By City News Service

The Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to contribute $1 million to a legal aid fund for people at risk of deportation and confirmed that anyone convicted of a violent felony will not be eligible to benefit from the fund.

The eligibility requirements for the county’s share of the L.A. Justice Fund — specifically the prohibition of convicted felons — drew protests from immigration advocates in April and forced the board to cancel a planned vote on the matter.

Civil rights advocates opposed to the exclusion said it amounted to unequal representation and ignored the fact that immigrants often “plead up” to more serious crimes based on legal advice that the crimes are “immigration-safe.”

Though the board and other contributors to the L.A. Justice Fund have cited the threat of new immigration policies of President Donald Trump, protesters accused county officials of playing into Trump’s framework of “good” and “bad” immigrants.

The board’s vote Tuesday focused on finalizing an agreement with the California Community Foundation to act as the county’s intermediary in granting ,aid. That agreement included an exhibit spelling out the eligibility criteria.

In addition to prohibiting those with a felony conviction and reserving aid for low-income immigrants, the county will prioritize help for: individuals with community ties to Los Angeles County, such as family members who are U.S. citizens;

— heads of households with one or more dependent family members;

— unaccompanied children and young adults who arrived as children;

— veterans;

— individuals with protection-based claims, such as refugees seeking asylum; and

— victims of crime, domestic violence and human trafficking.

Supervisor Hilda Solis said an estimated 7,000 county residents face deportation proceedings without a lawyer every year.

“The legal system is often-times tricky and can be difficult to navigate. On top of that, if you are an immigrant facing deportation, you are likely to speak a different language, be unfamiliar with complicated legal processes and be unable to afford a lawyer to represent you,” Solis said. “Today, the board took a significant step to create a safety net for immigrants, one that is pro-family, pro-economic growth and stability, and pro-civil and human rights.”

The Boston Immigrant Justice Initiative found that it costs about $5,000 in legal fees on average to contest a civil deportation case.

“… Increasingly aggressive tactics underscore the need to provide legal representation for immigrants facing deportation, particularly for individuals who have no criminal history and are unfamiliar with complicated legal processes such as removal proceedings,” stated Congresswoman Nanette Diaz Barragán and 19 other members of Congress in a letter addressed to the County Board of Supervisors that urged approval of the legal aid funding. The letter went on to urge supervisors to disperse funds “to legal service providers as soon as possible.”

According to a study conducted by the California Coalition for Universal Representation, 68 percent of detained immigrants in California are unrepresented. The same study determined detained immigrants who had lawyers avoided deportation more than five times as often in comparison to their unrepresented counterparts.

Niels Frenzen, director of USC’s Gould School of Law Immigration Clinic, said the county’s money would free up other funds for immigrants with prior convictions.

“When there are limited funds, it’s not always possible to provide for the representation of everyone facing removal proceedings,” Frenzen said. “However, the county’s contribution to the L.A. Justice Fund provides significant new funding for immigrants under the threat of deportation who do not have felony records, which in turn frees providers to use non-L.A. Justice Fund funds to represent other immigrants, including those with criminal histories.”

The L.A. Justice Fund is aiming to raise $10 million. The county intends to contribute an additional $2 million in fiscal year 2018-19 and the city of Los Angeles has tentatively committed $2 million, an amount approved by a council committee Monday.

Los Angeles Councilman Gil Cedillo applauded recent progress in making city funds available to the L.A. Justice Fund.

“I am grateful that my colleagues on the Budget Committee recognize the urgency to expend these funds, and hope for the same outcome during the full council vote on Friday,” said the first district councilman in a press release.

The city’s criteria also excludes anyone convicted of or appealing a conviction for a violent felony, however, some council members asked for clarification on that point before a vote by the full council.

Private entities are expected to contribute the remainder of the $10million and can set their own rules for eligibility. The board’s vote was 4-1, with Supervisor Kathryn Barger dissenting.

“Our federal immigration system is broken,” Barger said. “It is the federal government’s responsibility to support states and counties in their efforts to address the costs of illegal immigration… County taxpayers should not be forced to bear the cost to provide free legal representation for those facing deportation.”

On a separate front, the ICE out of CD1 Coalition — which includes Cedillo’s office, businesses and community groups — will hold a Legal & Resource Fair Saturday in Highland Park aimed at “formulating the pathway of resistance in Council District 1.” The event will take place from 1p.m. to 3 p.m. at 5601 N. Figueroa St., and will include speakers, legal resources and a live question and answer session.

For more information, contact Conrado Terrazas from Cedillo’s office at (213) 550-1538. RSVP to: bit.ly/ICEJune24

 

EGP staff writer Natalie Jiménez contributed to this story.

 

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June 22, 2017  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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