Councilmember M. Lorena González • Photo courtesy of the City of Seattle

On April 28, Mayor Ed Murray and Councilmembers M. Lorena González and Tim Burgess signed an ordinance to create a $1 million legal defense fund to help immigrants who can’t afford to hire their own legal help.

The legal defense fund will be available this summer and will be administered by the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs. It will take the form of contracts that community organizations can apply for. The fund will help these organizations hire immigration attorneys, legal staff, and services to aid immigrants who are detained and those facing deportation. Unlike in other courts, people in immigration proceedings do not have the right to a court-appointed attorney.

The idea was first proposed at the end of March, just after the City announced it would sue the Trump administration over threats to cut funding to sanctuary cities. According to a statement from the City, the measure is intended to help combat the Trump administration’s policies toward immigrants and refugees. These policies, the City says, will most likely increase the number of people who need legal services.

“The scales of justice are out of balance when immigrants, and oftentimes children, appear alone in court without legal representation or any viable way to defend themselves, while the government has seasoned immigration attorneys working every single case, said Councilmember González in a statement. “Everyone deserves access to legal aid, and this legislation will help make that a reality.”

According to Councilmember Burgess, “Together, we’re providing a fighting chance for our immigrant neighbors, friends and families, and that’s good for all of us as Seattleites.”

The City statement cites a study by the American Immigration Council, which found that immigrants who were represented in court were up to 10 times more likely to obtain relief than those without representation, and that those in detention who were able to have a custody hearing were four times more likely to be released from detention.

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