County supervisors create a new office that would help immigrants receive assistance

After a public hearing marked by angry clashes between supporters of President-elect Donald Trump and pro-immigrant activists, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved the creation of a new office that would help immigrants receive county assistance. 

The Office of Immigrant Affairs would provide a “one-stop shop” for those seeking help, according to a statement released by Supervisor Hilda Solis, who along with Supervisor Sheila Kuehl co-sponsored the motion creating the office.

It hasn’t been determined yet exactly what services the office would offer, but Solis’ office said it would help immigrants find legal representation to fight deportation cases and assist them in identifying other social services. A detailed plan — with a budget and staffing levels — is expected to be proposed later this year.

“I want to remind our communities that the county will continue to stand against hate and provide exceptional aid for our immigrant individuals,” Solis said in a statement. “This is one of the many steps we are taking towards protecting the immigrant communities that are so essential to Los Angeles County.”

Tuesday’s action came weeks after the county set aside $3 million to a legal assistance fund for immigrants facing deportation. That funding is part of a joint effort between the county and L.A. City Hall, where leaders have also vowed to resist any federal plan to deport millions of people. The city is committing $2 million to the fund.

The hearing reflected how divisive the issue is, even in a county with many immigrants and which overwhelming voted against Trump. The Migration Policy Institute estimates that 1 million of the 11 million residing in the country illegally live in L.A. County.

During his presidential campaign, Trump promised to deport millions of immigrants in the country illegally and to erect a border wall thousands of miles long. His populist candidacy energized many from the Republican Party’s base, while inspiring fear and protests from those opposed to his run for the presidency.

His election stunned many, and soon cities, counties and states with largely Democratic voters, including L.A. County, promised to declare their jurisdictions as sanctuaries for immigrants. 

At Tuesday’s board meeting, supporters of Trump and those who back immigrant rights shouted complaints from the audience about the failings of county government, though for different reasons. Trump supporters accused supervisors of harboring and abetting people violating federal immigration law, while immigrant rights activists called repeatedly for the county to end all cooperation with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Some Trump supporters said immigrants had brought drugs and violence into their neighborhoods and should be deported.

“Legal assistance for illegals is one of the most insane statements I can think of,” said Betty Retama, a member of the pro-Trump groups known as We The People Rising and America First Latinos.

Immigration activists praised the county’s move to create an immigration affairs office, calling it an important effort at stopping “Trump’s deportation machine.”

“Despite their being loud, they’re on the wrong side of history,” said Andres Kwon in response to outbursts from Trump supporters. “We need you to be on the right side of history.”

Board chair Mark Ridley-Thomas grew so frustrated by discord in the audience that he ordered every member of the public out of the board chambers, and convened a closed session. “I think we’ve had more than enough,” he said as he had the room cleared.

When supervisors reopened the public session, nearly everyone had left.

The motion passed 4-1.

As part of the motion, the board moved to have the county’s civilian oversight commission oversee the Sheriff's Department’s interactions with immigrants and make sure the department is adhering to its own immigrant-friendly policies. It also directed the Office of Education to plan for providing bilingual information on resources and rights of immigrant students to a “free public education, regardless of their immigration status.”

Supervisor Kathryn Barger voted against the creation of the Office of Immigrant Affairs and the proposal for the Office of Education. 

Adam.Elmahrek@latimes.com

@adamelmahrek

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