L.A. County supervisors OK $3 million to aid legal efforts for immigrants facing deportation

About 40 people gathered outside the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration on April 11 to protest the L.A. Justice Fund's lack of universal access.
(Dakota Smith / Los Angeles Times)
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Disappointing some immigrant advocates, Los Angeles County officials voted Tuesday to authorize $3 million for legal assistance for immigrants facing deportation but to bar those who have violent criminal pasts.

The Board of Supervisors’ vote came a day after the city’s Budget and Finance Committee approved up to $2 million for the same purpose.

The votes ended a debate about which immigrants should qualify for help through the newly created L.A. Justice Fund, although the proposal that the city is considering would include an exemption for individuals with a “meritorious claim.”


“The county’s $3-million contribution to the L.A.J.F. can only go so far,” said Supervisor Hilda Solis, a champion of the fund, in a statement.

Emi MacLean, an attorney with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, argued for broader inclusion. “This county’s proposal would define people by their worst act,” she said at the meeting Tuesday.

The L.A. Justice Fund, which will include an additional $5 million from private philanthropic groups, was unveiled last December by Mayor Eric Garcetti and Solis in anticipation of a crackdown on immigrants by incoming President Trump. Implementation of the fund was held up in April over protests regarding the exclusion of immigrants with a history of violent criminal offense.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said she wished there were a way to include some of those immigrants.

“Many people have paid their dues to society — have paid their price and served their time,” she said in remarks before the vote. “I simply want to speak up for those people.”

Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who opposed the creation of the fund in December, cast the lone dissenting vote. “County taxpayers should not be forced to bear the cost to provide free legal representation for those facing deportation,” she said in a statement.


The county will enter into an agreement with the California Community Foundation to manage and disburse the funds.

The full Los Angeles City Council is expected to approve a similar agreement on Friday.

The foundation will award nonprofit agencies money to provide legal advice to immigrants and to represent them in court.

The proposed county agreement lists family members of citizens and other lawful residents as priorities to receive services, as well as children, veterans and victims of domestic violence or human trafficking.

The decisions this week come about five months after Trump signed executive orders to begin planning for a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico and to step up immigration enforcement.

In May, Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced that arrests of people living in the country illegally during Trump’s first 100 days in office were up nearly 38% over the same period in 2016. Arrests in Southern California, however, have remained relatively flat.

The decisions also follow the state Legislature’s passage last week of a budget that would funnel $45 million to community organizations to provide immigrants with legal assistance and other services. Gov. Jerry Brown has until the end of the month to sign budget-related legislation, but he has indicated he supports the idea.


Nearly 10% of the nation’s 11.1 million undocumented immigrants live in Los Angeles and Orange counties, according to the Pew Research Center.

A 2016 report found that immigrants in California who have legal representation are four to five times more likely to succeed in immigration court than their counterparts who lack such representation.

Angelica Salas, executive director of the immigrant rights advocacy group CHIRLA, said in an interview that her organization has seen a jump in clients since Trump took office, sometimes meeting with more than 100 new clients in one day, compared with a previous daily average of 20 new clients.

“The demand is high, and I think the fund will really help us see more people,” Salas said.

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