Legal defense fund in the works for local immigrants facing deportation

Long Beach officials are recommending a New York-based nonprofit to oversee a local defense fund for immigrants facing deportation proceedings—something other left-leaning cities and counties are doing in response to new enforcement policies under the Trump Administration.

City staff want to partner with the Vera Institute of Justice, which would possibly oversee a defense fund of $250,000 to help low-income immigrants who live or work in Long Beach, according to a July 20 memo from City Manager Pat West.

The $250,000 proposed by the City Council would be a “one-time grant of ‘seed’ funding” to establish and promote the fund and program, according to the memo. The money would come from $100,000 in savings identified in the 2018 fiscal year budget that would be matched by Vera as part of the program. City staff expects to identify the remaining $150,000 when the council deliberates on the 2019 fiscal year budget.

Local advocates—who called for the allocation of $250,000 to establish a legal defense fund during a ‘people’s budget’ proposal this month—called the proposed defense fund a win for the community and a step closer to universal representation for all immigrants.

“We expect Mayor Garcia and the City Council to continue supporting the immigrant community by allocating the additional $150,000 in this year’s budget and remove the carve-outs from the Long Beach Values Act,” the Sanctuary Long Beach Campaign said in a statement, referring to the resolution passed by the council in March that stated immigrants could still be deported under “carve outs” for certain felonies.

The Long Beach Values Act built on much of the California Values Act passed last year, which prohibits state and local law enforcement agencies from coordinating with federal immigration officers. The local resolution also called for the creation of a legal defense fund.

Long Beach Builds on State’s Sanctuary Bill But Leaves Gaps Advocates Hoped To Close

The same month the city passed the policy, the Justice Department sued California over its “sanctuary” bills that make up the California Values Act—Assembly Bill 450 and Senate Bill 54— which justice officials said obstruct the “enforcement of federal immigration law.”

While the country saw an uptick in deportation raids under the Obama administration, including the arrests of Central American families, a crack down on illegal immigration was a key issue for then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, who won his presidency in part with a promise to build a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border and ban Muslim-majority countries from traveling to the U.S. Trump was recently criticized for issuing a policy that separated asylum-seeking immigrant families at the border.

So far, 12 cities and counties across the country are partners with Vera under its SAFE (Safety & Fairness for Everyone) Cities Network—including the city of Santa Ana. If the council approves the partnership with Vera, the city would need to comply with certain requirements, including assigning a dedicated personnel to serve as a liaison, dedicating public funding, and aspiring to help all immigrants in removal proceedings.

The city still has to submit a letter of intent to Vera, which has not yet been received, according spokesperson for the nonprofit. City spokesman Kevin Lee told the Post last Wednesday that the city intended to send the letter sometime in July.

After the letter is sent, the city will then work on a contract in August and present it to the city council in early fall this year for approval.

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Stephanie Rivera is the community engagement editor for the Long Beach Post. After graduating from CSULB with a degree in journalism, Stephanie worked for Patch Latino and City News Service before coming to the Long Beach Post in 2015.