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County Council Unanimously OKs $370,000 for Legal Defense of Illegal Residents Facing Deportation

Today the Montgomery County Council unanimously voted to fund $370,000 in the County’s fiscal year 2019 budget for legal representation for low-income County residents who are facing deportation proceedings. County funding for legal services is needed to evaluate deportation cases and provide direct legal representation to individuals in deportation proceedings.

The Council appropriation for the funding includes a prohibition on County-funded legal representation of certain individuals who have been convicted of serious crimes. County funding will not be used to represent individuals who have been convicted of crimes such as murder, rape, sexual offenses, carjacking, extortion, stalking, domestic violence, arson, fraud, burglary and several other crimes.

The Council introduced a special appropriation for legal funding to help residents detained because of deportation proceedings on April 17 and held a public hearing on May 1, 2018. The appropriation approved today by the Council for legal resources to assist residents in deportation proceedings updated the exclusion policy for the use of these funds, after consultation with the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office. The appropriation also shifted funding from the FY18 to FY19 operating budget.

“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. “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 organizations working in the areas of immigrant rights, grassroots community engagement and anti-bullying and anti-bigotry. I am proud that we are approving this appropriation to provide legal representation to immigrants in deportation proceedings that recognizes our public safety goals, while taking care of our most vulnerable residents.”

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. Legal representation in these proceedings has helped to reunite and preserve families and enabled individuals to retain legal work authorizations.

“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.”

“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 funding will ensure that low-income residents facing deportation proceedings will have access to an attorney and a fair shot in court.”

County funding from this appropriation can only be used to assist individuals from households with incomes at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, which is approximately $24,280 for an individual and $50,200 for a family of four, or individuals who can prove financial hardship.

“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.

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.

“It is so important for the County to be able to help our residents facing deportation under the circumstances outlined in the Council’s resolution to appropriate this legal funding,” said Councilmember Sidney Katz. “I am pleased that with these funds, we will be able to help families stay together and continue to lead productive lives in the County.”

“Defendants 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 in guaranteeing the right to an attorney to those who have committed no crime and represent no threat to our community.”

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.

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