Courtesy Lorena Gonzalez

City Council Establishes $1 Million Fund to Help Immigrants With Legal Expenses

The vote comes the same day the King County Council established its own fund.

Earlier this afternoon, the Seattle City Council unanimously voted to establish a $1 million immigrant legal defense fund to cover the legal expenses of Seattle immigrants and refugees amid an increase in arrests of undocumented immigrants by federal authorities under the Trump administration.

Meanwhile, the King County Council voted Monday to establish its own “resilience fund,” which would allocate $750,000 to immigrant and refugee programs such as “Know Your Rights” trainings or supporting relevant local nonprofits.

The city legislation—co-sponsored by at-large councilmembers Lorena Gonzalez and Tim Burgess and announced back on March 30th—will divert the $1 million from the City’s general sub fund to the City Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, who will administer the money as competitive grants to non-profit organizations that provide legal services to immigrants living or working in Seattle. While the fund is explicitly intended to aid those who are facing repercussions—such as detention or deportation—due to their immigration status, the money can also go towards legal expenses related to the naturalization process. (The legislation also mandates that the $1 million allocation will be automatically renewed in 2018.)

The council’s approval of the fund comes on the cusp of recent reports that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrests of undocumented immigrants have spiked since President Donald Trump took office in late January. (An increase in ICE arrests of immigrants with no criminal record are partially responsible for this spike, the Washington Post reports.)

“Due process is a cornerstone of our democracy and that’s exactly what this legal defense fund recognizes,” said Gonzalez at Monday’s full council meeting. “If no one else is going to give you [immigrants] a fighting chance, we will.”

After citing “recent studies” that indicate that cities and counties that protect immigrants and whose law enforcement agencies decline to participate in ICE enforcement efforts experience economic benefits and lower crime rates, Burgess said: “[the legislation] is good for people appearing in front of immigrate courts, it’s good for our economy, and it’s good for health and public safety.”

Gonzalez indicated before the vote that she hopes that the City will be able to “infuse these funds into the community sometime in June.”

Over at the county, Council Chair Joe McDermot said its fund “will provide relief for both immediate and emerging needs of these communities, with an immediate distribution of funds for legal aid and education.”

“This is an important step as we continue to ensure our county is a safe and welcoming place for everyone,” he said.