Councilmember M. Lorena González, Councilmember Tim Burgess and Mayor Ed Murray today announced their intention to dedicate $1 million to establish a “Legal Defense Fund” (LDF) to aid Seattle immigrants and refugees. Following expanded federal enforcement targeting all immigrants, the officials announced the creation of the LDF to support Seattle residents and workers with limited financial resources facing civil proceedings in immigration court.
Councilmember M. Lorena González (Position 9, Citywide) said, “With this Legal Defense Fund, we stand hand-in-hand with our immigrant and refugee communities as they fight to remain with their families and in their homes. Each of our friends, neighbors, and family members who go to immigration court deserve to be accompanied by someone who understands their case.”
The LDF would be structured as a grant and interested community-based organizations could apply for funds to hire immigration attorneys, legal staff and legal navigators to aid immigrants facing trial. Legal representation is expensive, and, unlike traditional courts, people in immigration proceedings do not have the right to an attorney. In the first national study of access to counsel in immigration courts, the American Immigration Council found that people who were represented in court were up to ten times more likely to obtain relief than those without representation.
The LDF would help fill the void and provide support for those people in need of legal defense, especially for people held in detention centers. At the Seattle immigration court, which handles cases of individuals who are not detained in detention centers, 35% of people are not represented by an attorney. At the Tacoma immigration court, which processes cases of people held in the Northwest Detention Center, 92% of people do not have legal representation.
Mayor Ed Murray said, “Seattle is committed to remaining a Welcoming City for our hard-working immigrant families and refugees. Under the Trump administration, more vulnerable residents are confronted with deportation with no legal representation—this is unacceptable. The creation of this fund helps ensure immigrants and refugees have more access to the legal representation they desperately need. These residents are a part the Seattle community and we will fight for them every way we can. Thank you to Councilmember M. Lorena González for her leadership on creating the Legal Defense Fund.”
Councilmember Tim Burgess (Position 8, Citywide), co-sponsor of the legislation, said, “Jurisdictions that value and protect immigrants have less crime and stronger economies. Establishing this Legal Defense Fund will help uphold the laws that protect immigrants’ rights, prevent families from being unfairly torn apart, and enable our businesses to keep running with the valuable talents that immigrants bring to our community.”
The announcement today furthers the City’s “Welcoming Cities” resolution, which committed to developing a strategy to create the Legal Defense Fund to “assist immigrant and refugee individuals and families.” The $1 million for the LDF comes from the 2017 City general subfund and is a one time allocation. Councilmembers González and Burgess are committed to pursuing ongoing funding during the Council’s budget review process this fall.
Council will consider the $1 million allocation for the Legal Defense Fund at the Gender Equity, Safe Communities and New Americans Committee, chaired by Councilmember González, on April 12, 2017.