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LA County approves funding to help some immigrants fight deportation

FILE: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents detain an immigrant on October 14, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. On Tuesday, Los Angeles County supervisors voted 4-1  to move ahead with a plan to contribute $3 million over the next two years to what is called the L.A. Justice Fund. The fund will combine $10 million worth of county, city, and philanthropic money to help cover legal services for immigrants facing deportation. But those with violent felony convictions will be excluded from the county money.
FILE: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents detain an immigrant on October 14, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. On Tuesday, Los Angeles County supervisors voted 4-1 to move ahead with a plan to contribute $3 million over the next two years to what is called the L.A. Justice Fund. The fund will combine $10 million worth of county, city, and philanthropic money to help cover legal services for immigrants facing deportation. But those with violent felony convictions will be excluded from the county money.
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Los Angeles County supervisors voted 4-1 Tuesday to move ahead with a plan to contribute $3 million dollars over the next two years to what is called the L.A. Justice Fund. The fund will combine $10 million worth of county, city, and philanthropic money to help cover legal services for immigrants facing deportation.

The county's contribution was approved with a controversial exclusion: People who have been convicted or are appealing a conviction for violent felony offenses will be barred from the county money. Immigrant advocates had pushed for a plan without exclusions.

Supervisor Hilda Solis said in a statement Tuesday afternoon that the fund "will be able to help those individuals who have simply been trying to make a better life for themselves and their families.”

Supervisor Kathryn Barger cast the sole dissenting vote. Barger said in an emailed statement to KPCC following the vote that "county taxpayers should not be forced to bear the cost to provide free legal representation for those facing deportation.”

Tuesday’s vote clears the way for an initial contribution to the fund of $1 million, and enables county officials to enter into a two-year, $3 million agreement with the California Community Foundation, which will administer the legal fund. 

Los Angeles city officials are set to vote on the city's planned contribution to the fund this Friday.

Separately, California lawmakers last week approved the expansion of a legal assistance program that helps immigrants seek citizenship and other services to include defending against deportation.

The state budget headed to the governor’s desk includes about $15 million in extra funds for qualified legal nonprofits that would take on deportation cases.

Under the newly approved state funding, violent offenders would not be eligible for the help. But in L.A., many immigrant advocates have come out against the exclusion of immigrants convicted of violent crimes. 

"We should be a society and a community that believes in second chances, that believes in rehabilitation, that believes that people are not gong to be judged by their worst acts," Emi MacLean, an attorney with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network in Los Angeles, told KPCC on Monday.

The city of Los Angeles is considering rules to generally exclude violent offenders, but there could be exceptions on a case-by-case basis, depending on the circumstances.

On Monday, the city's Budget and Finance Committee voted to move forward with an initial $1 million for the L.A. Justice Fund. But the committee held off making a decision on who would be eligible to get help from the fund until the full City Council can vote Friday on the plan. 

The city has promised to eventually contribute $2 million into the fund.

Supervisor Hilda Solis told KPCC on Monday that with the Trump administration promising more deportations, who is eligible or isn't is not the biggest priority.

“At this point, it has become a lot clearer that the urgency is to get the money out," Solis said.

Solis also said it makes sense to restrict who receives the legal help because the money is limited: She said the average cost of each case is estimated at $5,000.

Santa Ana is one city weighing a legal defense fund for immigrants without criminal record restrictions. The  Santa Ana City Council is set to vote Tuesday evening on a plan to seed a $65,000 legal defense fund that would include grant money and donations.

Santa Ana city spokeswoman Alma Flores said the program "would not seek to exclude clients on the basis of having criminal history."

Opponents of the legal aid programs condemn the use of public funds to cover services to help immigrants facing deportation.

"We would like to see more money spent toward seeing citizens' and legal residents' lives improved, and less toward defending people who are in the United States and in California illegally," said Joe Guzzardi with Californians for Population Stabilization, an immigration restriction group.

This story has been updated.