The new proposal by local government and charitable institutions for a $10 million legal defense fund for immigrants threatened with deportation by President-elect Donald Trump offers them a helping hand as they enter the labyrinth of arrests, detention and hearings that await them.
Congratulations to Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Atty. Michael Feuer and Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis, along with the California Endowment and other philanthropic groups, for putting together the money.
Dakota Smith and Cindy Carcamo reported in the Los Angeles Times that city and county governments would contribute at least $5 million to an L.A Justice Fund. Among the charities, the California Endowment, the state’s largest healthcare foundation, plans to give $2 million. The county supervisors voted 4 to 1 Tuesday to earmark $3 million over two years. Republican Kathryn Barger, a newly elected supervisor, was the lone dissenter. City Council approval is expected.
Public radio station KPCC noted on its website the money is unlikely to be enough to help all of the undocumented immigrants living in the county, a number estimated by the Public Policy Institute to be nearly 815,000 people. But supporters hope it will slow attempts to send immigrants out of the country, many of whom have lived in the state for much of their lives. Garcetti said the funds would help the most vulnerable, including minors, refugees and military families.
Whether intentionally or not, the donors picked a symbolic day to announce their plan—the day electors in every state cast their votes for president. For if Trump keeps his campaign promises, he’ll encourage the anti-immigrant feelings of his attorney general, hire many more immigration cops and increase the number of courts through which immigrants are sent as they begin their forced departure for the countries they fled.
The task that will face the L.A. Justice Fund lawyers is immense. Their work begins when immigrants are stopped and asked for papers. A traffic violation could trigger that. Or, and more likely, it would be a raid on a workplace. First there is a “master calendar” immigration court hearing, sort of an introduction to the system, followed by a hearing on the merits of the case. These are often subject to delays because of bureaucratic failures or overcrowded immigration courts. Sometimes, major criminals are caught up in the web, but mostly these are people with no violations or minor ones—or people who have been picked up by mistake. A lawyer is needed at every step and most of the immigrants can’t afford them. Sometimes, they are put in detention as long as a year.
The justice fund is part of a resistance movement developing against Trump in big cities—New York, Chicago, San Francisco and many others. Garcetti and the others are also standing up for underdog constituents who could be lost in the Trump revolution.