M. Lorena González and other Seattle officials at a press conference responding to Trump earlier this year. Courtesy González’s office

Seattle to Earmark $1 Million for Immigrant Legal Defense Fund

The City Council is making good on its January resolution, with the mayor in tow.

Today, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and Councilmembers M. Lorena González and Tim Burgess announced a plan to dedicate $1 million in city funds toward paying for the legal defense of immigrants who face threats of deportation under the Trump administration. The announcement partly fulfills promises the council made in its “Welcoming City” resolution in January.

As a candidate, Trump railed against “killers and rapists” coming into the U.S. illegally from Mexico; as president, he’s moved to dramatically increase deportations. Here’s how The New York Times rather delicately put it in February: “Taken together, the new policies are a rejection of the sometimes more restrained efforts by former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush and their predecessors, who sought to balance protecting the nation’s borders with fiscal, logistical and humanitarian limits on the exercise of laws passed by Congress.”

Now, according to a press release sent out this morning, Seattle will be dedicating $1 million to pushing back against the increased deportations in court. The money will go to low-income immigrants and refugees who live or work in the city.

“With this Legal Defense Fund, we stand hand-in-hand with our immigrant and refugee communities as they fight to remain with their families and in their homes,” González is quoted in the release. “Each of our friends, neighbors, and family members who go to immigration court deserve to be accompanied by someone who understands their case.” Murray and Burgess expressed similar sentiments.

According to the press release, “the legal defense fund would be structured as a grant and interested community-based organizations could apply for funds to hire immigration attorneys, legal staff, and legal navigators to aid immigrants facing trial. Legal representation is expensive, and, unlike traditional courts, people in immigration proceedings do not have the right to an attorney. In the first national study of access to counsel in immigration courts, the American Immigration Council found that people who were represented in court were up to ten times more likely to obtain relief than those without representation.

“The LDF would help fill the void and provide support for those people in need of legal defense, especially for people held in detention centers. At the Seattle immigration court, which handles cases of individuals who are not detained in detention centers, 35% of people are not represented by an attorney. At the Tacoma immigration court, which processes cases of people held in the Northwest Detention Center, 92% of people do not have legal representation.”

cjaywork@seattleweekly.com

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