City of Seattle, King County announce Legal Defense Fund awardees

Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine announced the community organizations that have been selected to receive $1.5 million in grants as part of the Legal Defense Fund to provide legal aid to vulnerable immigrants and refugees.

“I signed legislation in April establishing a $1 million-dollar immigrants’ Legal Defense Fund because immigrants are being targeted by a presidential administration that has embraced White Nationalism,” said Mayor Murray. “Today, with additional money from our partners at King County, we are awarding those defense fund dollars to community organizations like the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Kids in Need of Defense, and West African Community Council, because they advocate for immigrants every day in what’s now a larger fight to preserve core American principles of Democracy.”
“We are sending a clear, united message to the rest of the country – and to the world – that King County remains an inclusive community where all are welcome to build a better future,” said Executive Constantine. “The funding we announce today will help our partner organizations defend the human rights of more immigrants and refugees who contribute to the prosperity and vibrancy of our region.”

Direct Legal Representation – Total awarded: $1,423,358
To qualify for these funds, organizations must have an attorney on staff who is able to provide direct legal representation for low-income immigrants and refugees living in King County or working in Seattle who are in detention, facing removal, or in danger of losing their immigration status.

  1. Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) – $235,454
  2. Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) / Colectiva Legal del Pueblo – $1,187,904

Community Navigation Services – Total awarded: $111,642
To qualify for these funds, organizations must be able to provide guidance and referrals for low-income immigrants and refugees living in King County or working in Seattle who are in detention, facing removal, or in danger of losing their immigration status.

  1. Filipino Community of Seattle – $30,000
  2. South Park Information and Referral Center (SPIARC) – $27,145
  3. West African Community Council (WACC) – $54,497

Over the course of two weeks, a panel comprised of members from the immigrant and refugee legal defense community, King County staff, and City of Seattle staff reviewed both written applications and oral presentations. Out of ten applications, five received awards.

Earlier this year, both the City and the County passed legislation authorizing these funds for legal defense and community navigation services, as President Donald Trump threatened immigrant and refugee communities through both his inflammatory rhetoric and unconstitutional executive orders.

In November 2016, Mayor Murray responded to the federal administration’s anti-immigrant actions by passing his Welcoming City Executive Order, which reinforced the City’s already existing policy that employees do not ask about citizenship status and serve all residents regardless of immigration status. The order also mandated funding for peer support groups and counseling for immigrant and refugee middle and high school youth, legal assistance for immigrant families with children in Seattle Public Schools, and a comprehensive public awareness effort around reporting discriminatory harassment. The City of Seattle also bolstered community collaboration, education, and access to know-your-rights information and resources and created the Inclusive and Equitable Cabinet to address threats to civil rights, including to immigrant and refugee communities.

In March of this year, Councilmembers M. Lorena González and Tim Burgess joined with Mayor Murray in announcing their intent to pass legislation creating the fund. Seattle joins Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and Chicago as cities that have created programs to fund legal defense and other immigrant legal services. Unlike in criminal trials, individuals do not have a right to legal representation in immigration proceedings. However, studies have shown that people who were represented in U.S. immigration court were up to ten times more likely to obtain relief.

“Congratulations to each of the awardees of Seattle/King County’s pilot Legal Defense Fund. It is my sincere hope that funding these organizations will provide much needed protections against deportation for families that have built lives in the Seattle area,” said Councilmember M. Lorena González. “These organizations are committed to defending the constitutional rights of immigrants and refugees by providing access to quality civil legal aid. Together, our community navigators and civil legal aid organizations are on the frontline of protecting immigrants and refugees from ongoing attacks by the Trump Administration.”

“Access to a knowledgeable and trained legal advocate is invaluable during trying times, and can mean the difference between families being torn apart or staying together, or determining whether residents are able to continue the livelihoods that they’ve build over decades. We know that legal counsel can change the course of proceedings, especially for immigration procedures in which people are not automatically afforded this resource in the normal course of events.”

The City now begins negotiating the contracts detailing each of the grantees’ scope of work. The grantee organizations are expected to start offering services under the Legal Defense Fund after September 30.

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