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Nearly $50 million in the California state budget will go to expanded legal services for immigrants

About 100 people demonstrate outside a federal immigration court in Los Angeles. (Michael Balsamo / AP)
About 100 people demonstrate outside a federal immigration court in Los Angeles. (Michael Balsamo / AP)

California state lawmakers approved $45 million in a state budget plan to expand legal services for immigrants, a response to the Trump administration's call to increase deportations.

The funds, greater than what Gov. Jerry Brown earmarked in May and which will be an ongoing allocation through 2020, will go to a coalition of legal services agencies, immigrant rights groups and faith-based organizations called One California.

The $30-million legal assistance program, run by the state Department of Social Services, was first assembled to help thousands of immigrants apply for naturalization and former President Obama’s deferred action programs. With the additional money, providers will now also be able to help immigrants fighting deportation or removal proceedings.

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In a statement, the coalition called it a modest and reasonable investment to bolster much needed relief services.

"While the federal government proposes billions of dollars to tear communities apart through mass deportations, California takes another critical step on immigration to protect against the devastating consequences of deportations,” it said.

Improving legal defense for immigrants has been a significant part of a legislative package proposed by Democrats, in an attempt to assist more than 2 million people living in the state illegally. Among the proposals was a bill by Sen. Ben Hueso (D-San Diego) to create a $12-million legal defense program for immigrants facing deportation who do not have a violent felony on their records.

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On Thursday, a spokeswoman for his office said he would no longer be pushing the bill through the legislative process in its current form.

The budget preserves a separate $3 million allotment for an unaccompanied minors program, which was created in 2014 to provide legal aid to an unprecedented number of children arriving alone at the U.S.-Mexico border from Central America.

“Today’s vote confirms our responsibility to protect the due process rights of people living within our borders which is fundamental to our democracy," Hueso, chair of the Latino Caucus, said in a statement.

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