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Garcetti Announces $10 Million Legal Defense Fund For Immigrants Facing Deportation In Trump's America

(Photo courtesy of Hilda Solis)
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On Monday, local leaders announced the creation of a $10 million fund to provide legal assistance to immigrants facing removal proceedings—a dramatic response to the very real threat of life in Donald Trump's America.

The fund is a partnership between Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Attorney Mike Feuer, L.A. City Councilman Gil Cedillo, County Supervisor Hilda Solis, the California Community Foundation, the California Endowment and the Weingart Foundation. According to the California Community Foundation, the fund will do two main things. It will provide rapid response funding to nonprofit legal service organizations that represent individuals and families facing removal proceedings in the county, as well as supporting pilot programs that seek to expand the pool of immigration attorneys available to provide representation. The L.A. Times reports that initiative will be funded in partnership between the city and county, with the County Board of Supervisors pledging to provide $3 million, and the city providing an additional $1 million. The rest of the funds are expected to be raised from private philanthropic sources (you can donate here).

“[The Justice Fund] is such an appropriate name for a fund earmarked to help immigrants have their day in court," Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights Los Angeles, told LAist. "As everyone knows, thousands upon thousands of immigrants do not fight their case in immigration court because they lack the resources to pay for legal representation.

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Earlier this month, the County Board of Supervisors moved forward on an immigrant protection plan that would protect the data and identities of the county's immigrant communities who may be adversely affected by potential changes to federal immigration policy, and as well as begin establishing a countywide office of immigrant affairs. The plan didn't address any legal defense funding, and many activists at the meeting testified about the need for the county to provide legal support to immigrants facing removal proceedings.

"This is a call to action to those who can defend for those who have no defense. L.A. sticks by their own. Period," Councilman Gil Cedillo wrote on Facebook this morning.

During this morning's press conference, City Attorney Mike Feuer spoke about the need for the city and county to assist with legal defense efforts, so that immigrants don't have to turn to notarios, or others who might scam the vulnerable and provide them with poor legal advice. "We will stand up for you, and do not resort to those who will prey on you, you can do better," he said.

Notarios often take advantage of new immigrants by misrepresenting themselves as lawyers. "Unfortunately, with people being placed in removal proceedings and precarious immigration situations, notarios can use this as an opportunity to prey on them and really screw them over," Loyola Immigrant Justice Clinic co-founder Marisa Montes told LAist. "I think [the creation of the Justice Fund] is going to help combat the issue of notario fraud."

Montes, whose organization is part of a larger coalition pushing for the implementation of universal representation for detained immigrants (an emergency bill that would instate universal representation was introduced in the California Senate earlier this month), said the Justice Fund "really seems like the first step."

"We don't know what Trump's enforcement plan is going to look like. We don't know how many people are going to placed in detention or faced with removal proceedings, so I think this money will go pretty quickly," she explained. "We're already so inundated with people seeking our services."