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Touting a federal grant for local students, L.A. mayor again vows to protect immigrant families

An L.A. nonprofit won a $30 million federal grant to help schools in Pico-Union, and Mayor Eric Garcetti reaffirmed his commitment to immigrant families.

As President Trump signed executive orders to strengthen immigration enforcement and deny funding to "sanctuary cities," L.A.'s mayor and school officials gathered to celebrate a $30-million federal grant to help students in eight schools with large Latino populations and reaffirmed their commitment to protecting immigrant students and their families.

The nonprofit Youth Policy Institute was awarded a $30-million "Promise Neighborhood" grant from the U.S. Department of Education under the Obama administration to provide academic, health and legal services to about 4,000 students attending eight public and charter schools in Pico-Union and Hollywood. The money is supposed to be parceled out over five years, starting in 2017. The organization received a similar grant in 2013 for 18 schools in Hollywood and Pacoima.

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The funding is expected to pay for resources such as college advisors, mental health counselors and AmeriCorps tutors, and to keep schools open early in the mornings, after school and on weekends to serve as community centers where families can seek health, housing and other services, said Dixon Slingerland, Youth Policy Institute's president and chief executive. The organization plans to guarantee two years of community college tuition to students within the Promise Neighborhood, he said.

Slingerland said he expects to see the funding come through even though a different administration is running the Department of Education, in part because the Promise Neighborhood initiative has strong Republican backing in Congress and serves rural communities in addition to liberal, urban cities like Los Angeles. The $30 million is supplemented by private donations, he said, which help fund many of the programs.

"We don't believe that the new administration has come into power to break promises to the most vulnerable children of our nation," said L.A. Unified school board President Steve Zimmer. The last Promise Neighborhood grant in 2013, Zimmer said, brought with it college support, counseling, parenting classes and health resources for students and families in Hollywood and Pacoima.

If the federal government does try to withhold funding and grants because the city has committed to protecting its immigrant population, the city will fight back, Mayor Eric Garcetti said.

"We will defend you and your families," Garcetti told a crowd of about 100 city and school officials, students and parents at Berendo Middle School on Wednesday morning. "We will have lawyers…. We will fight in the courts."

Pico-Union is a heavily Latino neighborhood, and Berendo Middle School is home to numerous immigrant families and unaccompanied minors. Principal Rosa Trujillo and her staff work to prepare students for high school in the hopes they will graduate in four years. But many schools in L.A. Unified don't have the resources to pay for counselors, tutors and health services that can help these students succeed, she said.

Trujillo recently received a call about a child who had crossed the border into Texas without an adult, gone to New York and now was heading to Pico-Union and enrolling in her school.

"I can't imagine being unaccompanied," Trujillo said. "The trauma and the impact that would have."

The L.A. Unified school board has declared schools "safe zones," and district staff are preparing resource guides for those in the country without legal papers and for mixed-status families, Erika Torres, L.A. Unified executive director of student health and human services, said last week. The district also is developing training and reference guides for school staff about how to respond to deportations or threats of deportation affecting their students.

Reach Sonali Kohli at Sonali.Kohli@latimes.com or on Twitter @Sonali_Kohli.

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