On Tuesday, the Montgomery County Council introduced a special appropriation of $373,957 to the County’s fiscal year 2018 budget that would be used to fund legal representation for residents who are detained because of deportation proceedings. The funding would go to the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition to represent low-income County residents in deportation proceedings. A public hearing on the special appropriation is scheduled for May 1.
“Across the U.S. we have heard accounts of residents being put into detention and deported who own homes, run their own businesses and have employees who rely upon them, and are forced to leave their families behind, including children who in many cases are citizens,” said Council President Hans Riemer. “This is our County’s attempt to ensure that all residents have the opportunity to protect their rights and ensure they are aware and able to assert any options that they have under the law.”
“More than a year ago I asked my Council colleagues and the County Executive to come up with a Critical Response Plan in response to draconian immigration policies coming from the federal government,” said Council Vice President Nancy Navarro. “This plan included looking into establishing a legal defense fund. Out of this discussion we created the Resiliency Fund—a collaborative partnership of the Greater Washington Community Foundation, the Meyer Foundation and individual donors. To date, the Resiliency Fund has disbursed grants to 10 organizations working in the areas of immigrant rights, grassroots community engagement and anti-bullying and anti-bigotry. Today we have doubled down on our commitment to protect our immigrant community. I am proud that we have introduced a special appropriation to provide legal representation to immigrants in deportation proceedings.”
Deportation proceedings are one of the few types of legal proceedings where people are routinely detained and are often required to litigate their case without an attorney. According to the Vera Institute, which analyzed data from the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project, legal representation increased the chance that a non-citizen would receive a successful immigration court outcome by more than 1,000 percent. Legal representation in these proceedings also has helped to reunite and preserve families and enabled individuals to retain legal work authorizations.
“Unfortunately, under the Trump administration, there are long-term, productive members of our community facing the life-altering threat of deportation,” said Councilmember Roger Berliner. “Some of our residents are facing separation from their children, great economic uncertainty and the complete upheaval of the lives that they have built for themselves and their families. This special appropriation will ensure that low-income residents facing deportation proceedings will have access to an attorney and a fair shot in court.”
“This is our opportunity as a County to act morally in the face of injustice at the federal level,” said Councilmember Marc Elrich. “The mere notion that we would allow children to stand before an immigration judge as their own counsel would be laughable, if it weren’t true. It is the right thing to do. It’s important to note that this is being done with great care and attention to ensure that we are helping those who live among us as productive, contributing members of our community.”
The shift in leadership at the federal government has moved immigration enforcement away from targeting individuals with criminal convictions and instead has broadened the pool of individuals who are being pulled into immigration courts. According to the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recession and termination of Temporary Protective Status (TPS) has increased the number of immigration arrests of individuals with no criminal convictions by 146 percent from fiscal year 2016 to fiscal year 2017.
“All of our residents have a right to legal protections no matter where they’re from,” said Councilmember Tom Hucker. “I am proud of the Council for taking steps to safeguard children and families by introducing a special appropriation to fund the legal representation services provided by the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition.”
Most recently, the Department of Justice has announced plans to end the Legal Orientation Program at the end of this month. This program provides information and advice, but not legal representation, to individuals at immigration detention centers. The Department of Justice also has announced its intention to include quotas for cases closed and the number of appeals in the performance evaluation of immigration judges.
“Defendants have a basic right to be represented by an attorney, and those who are not represented by an attorney disproportionately end up in deportation proceedings even though they may be valuable contributors to our community with strong family ties here,” said Councilmember George Leventhal. “In the face of President Trump’s unprecedented effort to terrorize and victimize our immigrant community, I believe that guaranteeing the right to an attorney is an American value.”
“It is important for us to stand with our immigrant community, while the Trump administration is trying to divide us,” said Councilmember Craig Rice. “What many don’t realize is in the criminal justice system, if you can’t afford an attorney, you get a public defender. In immigration court, you don’t. This is just about fairness to our immigrant communities.”
The CAIR Coalition estimates that there will be between 85 and 90 detained individuals who will receive legal services, if the special appropriation is approved by the Council. The CAIR Coalition would not be able to use County funds to represent any person who is found to have a final criminal conviction for certain serious felonies.
Many other jurisdictions have recognized the need to fund legal representation for residents who are detained and in deportation proceedings. They include Baltimore City, Prince George’s County, New York City, Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, Santa Ana, Atlanta, Columbus, Chicago, Denver, Austin and San Antonio.