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$3 million to defend immigrants fighting deportation approved by LA County

About 100 members of the public signed up to comment on a Los Angeles County supervisors proposal to designate $3 million over two years to help provide legal help for immigrants fighting deportation. The supervisors approved the funding on a 4 to 1 vote.
About 100 members of the public signed up to comment on a Los Angeles County supervisors proposal to designate $3 million over two years to help provide legal help for immigrants fighting deportation. The supervisors approved the funding on a 4 to 1 vote.
Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

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Los Angeles County supervisors on Tuesday approved the county's share of a planned $10 million legal defense fund for immigrants fighting deportation.

In one of the first tangible actions taken by California officials in an expected showdown with the administration of President-elect Donald Trump over immigration, the supervisors voted 4 to 1 to earmark $3 million over two years to provide the immigrants' legal help.

Republican Kathryn Barger, a newly elected supervisor, was the lone dissenter.

The city of Los Angeles and private foundations have pledged the remaining $7 million to bring the fund to $10 million.

The $10 million fund is unlikely to be enough to help all of the undocumented immigrants living in L.A. County, estimated by the Public Policy Institute of California to be nearly 815,000 people. But supporters hope it will slow attempts to send immigrants out of the country, many of whom have lived in the state for much of their lives.

Trump repeatedly called during the presidential campaign for the deportation of millions of immigrants without legal status. He recently rolled back the numbers he said he would target, concentrating instead on those with criminal records.

Still, officials in Los Angeles, Sacramento and elsewhere in California have circled the wagons, promising to protect policies that have made the state among the bluest in the country, placing it in direct opposition to Trump on several fronts.

During public discussion on the legal defense fund, supervisors heard a range of opinions on helping immigrants facing deportation.

"We are providing people with access to a process that's fair," said Supervisor Hilda Solis, who along with Supervisor Janice Hahn sponsored the legal defense funding. Supporters have pointed to studies that immigrants with legal counsel do better in deportation proceedings compared to those who do not. 

Solis said the average cost of a deportation case is $5,000, suggesting about 2,000 immigrants could be helped by $10 million in funding.

Barger, who opposed the funding, said one of her concerns is that immigration is a federal issue. 

"It is obvious to me and me and frustrating to me that the system is broken and yet at the state and local level we are trying to fix what is just merely putting a Band-Aid on the problem," she said.

The county should at least seek reimbursement for the funds it spends on immigrant legal defense, Barger said. She also said she has questions about whether people guilty of criminal offenses would benefit from the legal help.

Marvin Ruiz told the supervisors that he fled to the U.S. from Honduras because of gangs that extorted his family. He described in Spanish the difficulty he had while held in detention without a lawyer. He said he now has legal counsel.

After the vote, Trump supporter Shirley Husar criticized the supervisors' approval of taxpayer money for immigrants' legal aid.

"Everyday working people have no idea how much money just went to someone else, someone else who do not pay taxes," Husar said.

This story has been updated.