Pending City Council approval, the money would be allocated to nonprofits that provide legal representation to people with cases in immigration court.
A day after suing President Donald Trump over his executive order on so-called “sanctuary cities,” Seattle officials said the city plans to set up a $1 million legal-defense fund for immigrants the federal government attempts to deport.
Pending City Council approval, the money would be allocated through a competitive process to nonprofit organizations that provide legal representation to people with cases in immigration court, Councilmembers M. Lorena González and Tim Burgess said at a news conference Thursday.
Immigration-court cases are civil proceedings because living in the country illegally is a civil violation rather than a criminal one. Unlike in criminal cases, people of modest means facing immigration charges aren’t guaranteed a public defender.
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“This legal-defense fund means that when our immigrant and refugee families, friends and neighbors go to immigration court, they will not be alone,” González said.
“We will stand hand in hand with these families as they defend their right to remain in this country.”
The organizations receiving money would be expected to use it to serve immigrants with limited financial resources — people unable to hire their own attorneys.
Immigrants accused or convicted of crimes wouldn’t be excluded from receiving legal support through the fund, González said in response to a question from a reporter.
People represented by legal counsel in immigration-court proceedings are 10 times more likely to win the right to remain in the country, González said, citing a national American Immigration Council study.
But more than one-third of people with immigration-court cases in Seattle and more than 90 percent of those with cases in Tacoma lack legal representation, the council member said.
“Compare that to the government, who is represented by an experienced immigration attorney 100 percent of the time,” she said, noting that even children appear in immigration court without representation. “This is patently unfair.”
Trump’s “mass-deportation plan” is targeting “virtually all undocumented persons living and working in this country, even if they are doing so peacefully,” González said.
In a three-day operation that ended Monday, federal immigration agents rounded up 84 people, including 60 with criminal records, in Washington, Oregon and Alaska.
The $1 million would come from the city’s general fund, the council member said. She said the money could be disbursed to the nonprofit organizations as soon as June. González’s City Council public-safety committee will consider legislation April 12.
The plan is almost certain to win council approval. The council in January voted unanimously to adopt a “welcoming cities” resolution that included a provision saying Seattle would work to create a legal-defense fund.
The money is separate from $250,000 Seattle is spending to help immigrants and refugees navigate life under the Trump administration, with a focus on children in the city’s public schools. Mayor Ed Murray announced that allocation in November.
King County may set aside an additional $750,000 to help immigrants become U.S. citizens, fight deportation and learn about their rights. The Metropolitan King County Council is considering legislation proposed in February by County Executive Dow Constantine and council Chair Joe McDermott.