Los Angeles city and county officials unveiled a proposal Monday for a $10 million legal defense fund for residents facing deportation, reports the Los Angeles Times. It’s one of the boldest moves yet by a city preparing to protect its residents during an anticipated crackdown on illegal immigration by the Trump administration.
More than 1 million of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. live in Los Angeles County, and the L.A. Justice Fund would help them afford lawyers. At least $5 million would come from city and county government, with the remainder given by philanthropic groups. The California Endowment, for example, the state’s largest private healthcare foundation, has pledged $2 million.
Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement that the fund would help the region’s “most vulnerable” immigrants, including refugees, military families and undocumented minors. Many immigrants don’t fight their cases because they can’t afford attorneys or unknowingly hire fraudulent ones. However, it’s not yet clear what city governments can do to block or delay deportations, which fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government.
Still, many mayors of large cities, which voted heavily for Clinton, are scrambling to find ways to protect the undocumented. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the creation of a $1.3 million legal defense fund earlier this month. New York already allocates funds for such a program, and San Francisco is looking into various plans.
Anti-illegal immigration activists have criticized L.A.’s proposal, calling it a waste of taxpayer money and an interference with federal government policy.
“The city and state have historically used taxpayer funds to provide legal services for the poor, which includes both citizens and non-citizens,” said UCLA law professor Ingrid Eagly. “It’s consistent with the policy of the state and the city, which is a welcoming and inclusive policy.”
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is expected to vote Tuesday to allocate $1 million toward the fund this budget year, and to commit another $2 million in the coming years. The Los Angeles City Council will vote on moving $2 million from the city’s general fund to the legal defense fund when it reconvenes in January.
Jen Kinney is a freelance writer and documentary photographer. Her work has also appeared in Philadelphia Magazine, High Country News online, and the Anchorage Press. She is currently a student of radio production at the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies. See her work at jakinney.com.