Responding to Trump, L.A. Proposes $10-million Legal Defense Fund for Immigrants Facing Deportation

Dakota Smith and Cindy Carcamo, LA Times, December 19, 2016

Los Angeles city and county leaders on Monday unveiled a $10-million fund to provide legal assistance for residents facing deportation, the region’s boldest move yet as it prepares for an expected crackdown on illegal immigration by Donald Trump.

If approved by lawmakers, Los Angeles’ two top government agencies could find themselves in the position of using public funds to challenge policies sought by the White House and Republican Congress.

The fund represents another provocative pushback against the Trump agenda in heavily Democratic California, but outside legal experts said the local government agencies are likely within their right to use the money for these purposes.

Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer said the fund will ensure that there is “more fairness and more effectiveness in the immigration system.” He cited statistics showing that immigrants who have representation have a better chance at succeeding in court.

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L.A. Justice Fund would receive at least $5 million total from city and county government. Philanthropic groups would donate the rest of the money. The California Endowment, the state’s largest private healthcare foundation, plans to give the fund $2 million, according to a foundation spokeswoman.

The legal fund, aimed at helping immigrants who can’t afford attorneys, follows similar efforts at the state and national level to provide protections for migrants.

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More than 1 million of the estimated 11 million immigrants in the country without legal status live in Los Angeles County, and local groups argue Los Angeles needs to be prepared for the threat of deportations.

Mayor Eric Garcetti said the fund would help the region’s “most vulnerable” immigrants, including undocumented minors, refugees and military families.

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The Los Angeles City Council will vote on moving $2 million to the fund after it reconvenes in January. The city money will come from Los Angeles’ general fund, which pays for basic services like fire and police protection and street repairs.

City Councilman Paul Krekorian, who chairs the city’s budget committee, didn’t respond to a request for comment Monday. The council’s lone Republican, Councilman Mitch Englander, also didn’t respond.

Several similar bills to aid immigrants are pending at the state level. Sen. Ben Hueso (D-San Diego) introduced legislation earlier this month to create a state program to pay for legal representation for those facing deportation, while Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) wants to create state-funded centers to train attorneys on immigration law.

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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel this month announced the creation of a $1.3-million “legal protection” fund, created in partnership with the National Immigrant Justice Center. San Francisco is also weighing various plans to help fund legal services for immigrants, while New York City already directs money for such programs.

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Garcetti said Monday that the L.A. Justice Fund would help “law-abiding” immigrants. Asked by a reporter if that meant that anyone with a criminal history would be disqualified from receiving aid, the mayor said no. He added the city will continue to work with federal immigration authorities to crack down on serious criminals.

Ingrid Eagly, professor of law at UCLA, said she sees no legal risk for the city and county in using taxpayer money for the program.

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City and county representatives said the fund is one of the first times local taxpayer money has been allocated to provide legal services for those without documentation.

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